US sawmills rehire workers, restore production hours as Random Lengths North American framing lumber composite reaches highest level since 2005 at US$415/mbf; homebuilding recovery, increased lumber exports to China, seen as key demand drivers

LOS ANGELES , February 27, 2013 () – U.S. sawmills are rehiring employees and restoring production hours that were cut during the recession as the housing recovery fuels rising lumber demand and prices, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

Oregon's Swanson Group. Inc., which eliminated 720 positions at its operations in the Eugene, Oregon area during the recession, says it has restored 200 of those positions and plans to hire another 50 workers by late spring, taking its total workforce to 800 employees compared with 550 in 2009.

Another mill returning to pre-recession production levels is Seneca Sawmill Co., which has restored some of hours cut during the recession for its 375 employees in the Eugene, Oregon, area, who have almost returned to five-day workweeks, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In January, Southern Parallel Forest Products Corp. indicated it was planning to reopen its sawmill in Albertville, Alabama, this spring, creating 130 jobs. In addition, Hardwood company Baillie Lumber Co. of Hamburg, New York, recently announced plans to reopen a sawmill in Davenport, New York, that has been shuttered since 2008. 

As homebuilding recovers and pushes up demand, increased exports to China are squeezing availability still further and adding to the upward pressure on prices, which have more than doubled since 2009. The Random Lengths North American framing lumber composite reached US$415 per thousand board feet (mbf) as of Feb. 22, up from $190/mbf in January 2009 - a 46% increase over the price a year ago ($284/mbf) and the highest composite price for framing lumber since 2005.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, logging employment in the U.S. increased 7% in December to 51,000 people, up from a post-recession low of 47,700 in 2010. That level is still 14% below the 59,200 workers recorded in the industry in 2007.

The primary source of this article is The Wall Street Journal, New York City, on Feb. 24, 2013.

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