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March 24, 2013

Demand for wood grows as housing market improves

Even before dawn breaks, workers at the lumber yard in Lynwood, Calif., were bustling around, getting a move on the day. Men in yellow safety vests drove flatbed trucks stacked to the brim with planks of wood. Others were buzzing around in forklifts, ferrying more boards.

It’s a scene that had John Cencak smiling in satisfaction and relief. After years of anxiously waiting for the economy to rebound, the vice president of Jones Wholesale Lumber Cos. was seeing an upswing.

“You see this new truck?” Cencak said as he pointed to a glossy Freightliner truck, its white and green paint gleaming even in the dark. “We just bought three of them. That’s a half-million-dollar investment. It’s all part of the economic recovery.”

Thanks to a housing rebound in which new homes and apartments are being built, California’s timber industry is slowly on the mend after being devastated during the economic downturn.

Sawmills that cut timber into boards are reopening and hiring again. Truck companies that haul that wood out of state are revving up. Lumber prices have soared more than 40 percent over last year.

“The last few years have been a slow recovery from the recession for wood products,” said Phil Tedder, a forestry consultant at Resource Economics. “The main consumer was new housing, and that obviously wasn’t very good. But now things are picking up.”

Sierra Pacific Industries, one of the biggest timber companies in the country, has hired 140 lumberjacks, machinists and electricians for its reopened sawmill in Sonora, Calif., after closing it in 2009 when the housing market crashed. An additional 26 jobs were added at a mill in Chinese Camp, Calif.

“It’s a combination of new housing and repairs and remodels,” said Mark Pawlicki, spokesman for the Anderson, Calif., company, which operates 11 mills in the state. “The low interest rates for housing are helping. We are seeing an uptick in demand for windows, a lot of which go into remodels of homes.”

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