Wood products industry shows job growth

Wood products industry shows job growth

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In what economists are calling a “slight rebound,” the Central Oregon wood-products industry could hire as many as 2,900 people to fill new positions and replace retiring workers over the next six years, according to the Oregon Employment Department.

That could mean more jobs in Deschutes and Crook counties. In Deschutes County, 679 people were employed in the wood-products industry in 2016, or roughly 1 percent of the workforce . In Crook County, about 425 people are employed in the industry, which represents 7 percent of the workforce, according to employment data provided by the department.

The wood-product manufacturing sector, which makes particle board, plywood and two-by-fours, is still a large industry in Oregon in terms of jobs and revenue, said Brian Rooney, an Employment Department regional labor economist. The industry represents $1.1 billion in total payroll in Oregon, and most workers in the industry earn more than $30,000 a year. A living wage in Deschutes County for a single person is $24,782, according to data created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage calculator.

“The industry is rebounding to some extent,” Rooney said. “Viability depends upon the harvesting of logs.”

The projected growth in the wood-products industry is being fueled by new housing starts and a focus on harvesting smaller-diameter logs and forest restoration work where companies are using the harvest to fuel biomass and other wood-product creation, industry officials say.

Still, many hope to entice young workers to the field to replace the aging workforce with young talent seeking a life outdoors yet adept at using technology. That’s why the Oregon Logging Conference Foundation is hosting its first Future Forestry Workers Career Day on Friday at the Lane County fairgrounds.

“At our mill we’re always looking for quality people,” said Bruce Daucsavage, president of Ochoco Lumber Co. in Prineville. “We want to expand our facility, and we feel comfortable that the wood will be there.”

The wood-products industry is not what it was in its heyday of the 1970s when Central Oregon towns had their own mills and access to raw materials in public forests and when private land was virtually unlimited, Rooney said. Prineville had five mills alone; now there are none. There were two in Bend and in Redmond then, said Rick Kriege, owner of Kreige Logging.

While most other manufacturing jobs have rebounded since the 2008 financial meltdown, the wood-products industry has been slow to add jobs, Rooney said. The causes could be mechanization of the industry and lack of infrastructure and access to logs, he said.

“The whole industry is doing well, but it’s hard to find people to run the machines or work on the ground,” Kriege said.

That’s where the career day comes in.

Lisa Keown, a career technical education teacher at Crook County High School, will be taking 15 students to career day. Keown teaches natural resources and sees the career day as an opportunity for the students to hear firsthand what it’s like to work in the wood-products industry, she said.

“Many of the students haven’t decided which direction to go,” Keown said. “The industry is changing, and less people are needed. The skills are more technical.”

Spurred by new home sales nationwide, the wood products industry sees growth in obtaining stewardship contracts that enable loggers to clear out a national forest of small diameter trees and take the harvest for wood products. There’s a lot of small material in these forests, Daucsavage said.

For Daucsavage’s John Day mill, the future is not in ­construction-grade lumber, it’s in remanufacturing wood for window casements and using small wood material to make pressed fiberboard and wood chips.

With 100 employees at Ochoco Lumber, Daucsavage is hoping to increase those numbers as the biomass industry expands.

“We’re the only mill within 150 miles,” Daucsavage said. “At our mill we’re always looking for quality people. We want to expand, and we feel comfortable with our agreements with the U.S. Forest Service that the wood will be there. If the biomass industry grows, it will require a highly trained workforce.”

That’s the intent of career day, said Jim Dudley, vice president of the board at the Swanson Group, which owns sawmills and plywood plants in Glendale, Roseburg and Springfield.

“Loggers are hard to find. That’s what the career day is all about,” he said. “We’re hoping to connect with young people who want to live outside the big city, work outdoors and use heavy computerized machines.”

— Reporter; 541-633-2117, sroig@bendbulletin.com .