Manager at Norbord's Bemidji, Minnesota, OSB mill describes last few years as 'a rough stretch,' says company is working to keep plant open as construction slump costs state 5,000 timber-related jobs

LOS ANGELES , September 6, 2011 () – Norbord's OSB plant near Bemidji, Minnesota, is the only one of four plants in the region still in production, according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio News.

General manager Jack Wallingford said Norbord has tried to keep the plant open since the home construction slump began in 2007, maintaining around 140 jobs and providing work for loggers and haulers. He described the last few years as "a rough stretch."

Minnesota's timber industry is worth around US$17 billion, but economists estimate that the state has lost more than 5,000 timber-related jobs during the recession, including an estimated 600 logging and hauling jobs.

Norbord, along with other wood products businesses, is holding on until the market improves, but economists do not expect an upturn any time soon for construction related businesses. Housing starts in the U.S. have dropped nearly 75% from a 2005 peak of about 2 million, and are not predicted to reach the 1 million mark until 2013.

Wallingford said most companies that have survived are not making any money. He said his company had experienced very few profitable quarters since the bottom of the crash.

Big Fork and Deer River wood products producer Rajala Cos. has reduced its workforce from 300 to 70 and is in complete survival mode, according to VP John Rajala. The company has turned to producing boards for the wood packaging industry and exporting hardwoods to China to stay afloat. Its core products include specialty wood flooring and maple tongue and groove ceilings.

Rajala said only about a third of the state's family-owned independent sawmills had survived.

The primary source of this article is Minnesota Public Radio News, Bemidji, Minnesota, on Sep. 4, 2011.

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