Minnesota lumber biz walloped by housing downturn

Jack Wallingford Norbord MN MPRMPR reports that the Norbord plant west of Bemidji is the last of the four oriented strand board facilities operating in Northern Minnesota. Jack Wallingford, the plant’s general manager, said they are struggling to keep jobs for some 140 employees, loggers and haulers.  “We’ve been successful in that regard,” Wallingford said. “Past that, it’s been a rough stretch.” Timber is a $17 billion dollar industry in Minnesota. But the anemic housing market put segments of the industry on life support. Timber economists estimate Minnesota lost more than 5,000 timber-related jobs, including about 600 logging and hauling jobs.  Rajala Companies, a wood products producer in Big Fork and Deer River, trimmed its workforce from 300 to 70, vice president John Rajala said. “It’s horrible,” Rajal said. “…we’re in complete survival mode.” Paper is a bright spot for the timber industry, doing relatively well.  Don Deckard, an economist with the department’s forestry division, said that while new bio-businesses in some states are getting big federal grants to develop their industries, that’s not happening in Minnesota. “Wisconsin is getting it, Michigan is getting it. Ontario is getting it. But we’re not,” he said. “We’re not getting anything. Nothing is moving. It’s a very frustrating situation.”  Home building in the United States dropped nearly 75 percent from a peak of about two million homes in 2005. Economists predict new housing starts won’t hit the one million mark again until 2013.

(Photo credit: MPR)

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