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Missouri's timber industry hurt by recession

Friday, June 26, 2009 | 2:05 p.m. CDT

CAPE GIRARDEAU — Missouri's timber industry has been hit hard by the recession with demand down by as much as 30 percent, an industry spokesman said.

Brian Brookshire, director of the Missouri Forest Products Association, said the timber industry has been hurt by a drop in new home construction and sales.

He spoke at the Midwest Forest Industry Show, which is meeting this weekend in Cape Girardeau.

In the past 18 months, Missouri's timber industry revenue has fallen by 25 percent to about $4.3 billion a year, Brookshire said.

"The people who produce the material are operating at a loss right now," he said. "A lot of our mills at a best-case scenario are break-even. When demand for the products is decreased the way it has, the profit margin has gone away."

Brookshire said south-central Missouri has been hit hardest.

"The bulk of people that work there are dependent on the forest industry," Brookshire said. "Even if they don't work at a mill, they may drive a truck that transports materials or some other type of related job."

Natalie Sprink of East Perry Lumber Co. in Frohna says none of her 80 employees has been laid off, but production hours have been reduced by 25 to 30 percent.

"This has changed our way of thinking," Sprink said. "We're now in survival mode, but we're OK and still running. We have enough sales to keep us going, and that's what we're trying to pursue."

Betty Price, who manages Price Sawmill in Piedmont said the 40-year-old company's production schedule has been cut in half the past two months. Customers cut down on their orders, reducing the mill's workload, she said.

"A lot of people have been affected in the same way in this area," Price said. "But we've been very fortunate because we're not in debt."

Steve Foster, president and owner of Missouri Fibre Corp. in Scott City, said business is as much as 20 percent slower than normal, particularly in its wood chip products. Still, the 76-year-old company has never laid off an employee and doesn't expect to now, he said.

"We try to look for new markets, anticipate downturns and position ourselves to succeed in the future rather than cut back," Foster said.

Others, too, are optimistic.

"I do feel the industry will eventually come back," Sprink said. "It will come back when the housing industry bounces back, and that will light the fire for us. We'll come back because wood and wood products are essential to the U.S. and the world."


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