IDAHO MILL CLOSURES GIVE BOOST TO ELGIN'S ECONOMY

June 20, 2001 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A large corporation looks at the overall picture of its operation and at the bottom line.

Boise Cascade is no different.

The closure of mills in Cascade and Emmett, Idaho, and shifting of some workers to Elgin vastly improves the economies of scale, said Boise Cascade human resources manager Dave Salmon in La Grande.

You have the fixed costs no matter what. Now adding a second shift at the Elgin stud mill is just adding cream, he said.

We still have the usual overhead costs, whether its one or two shifts, Salmon said.

Boise plans to add a swing shift of 21 additional workers beginning Monday, the company announced this week.

Salmon said another benefit to bringing in workers from Idaho is their knowledge of the companys operations and philosophy.

A lot of the employees who were hired from the Idaho plants did production work there. There is some retraining since they will be working on different machinery here, but the process is the same, Salmon said.

Emmett was basically a plywood plant, but it had a planer, too, Salmon said. Lumber came from the Cascade plant about 1 1/2 hours away, he said.

With the change, theres not likely to be a log shortage in Elgin.

We have 200,000 acres of timberlands in Idaho and will be bringing in logs from there. Thats cost effective, and well be doing it long term, Salmon said.

Lewis Bly, stud mill manager, said the companys Idaho timber supply is important to the Elgin mill.

We didnt have enough logs to operate Cascade, but they can feed the shift in Elgin and help the timber supply for other Boise Cascade plants. With the addition of the Idaho logs, we have a good supply of logs in Elgin now, enough to run a second shift, Bly said.

Some logs have already been trucked in, both from the companys Idaho timberlands and from Cascade, Salmon said.

The company will be combining its timber management teams for the 300,000 acres in Northeast Oregon and the Idaho holdings, Salmon said. The corporation owns a total of 2 million acres nationwide.

We have restructured the forestry people in Idaho. There still will be timber management people there, but I think we have a stronger organization now, Salmon said.

The company operates its timberlands on a sustainable basis. Only 10 percent of its timber comes from federal or state lands, he said.

We plant a whole lot more trees than we harvest, Salmon said. But, of course, as trees grow, they have to be thinned. But we manage our lands so they will be as productive forever as they are now. We manage our Northeast Oregon forests very conservatively. Im really proud and impressed with our forestry people.

With the latest changes in place, Salmon doesnt see any layoffs or shifts in operation.

Employment is stable. Even though were always looking for efficiencies, I dont see any reduction or additions in employment. Were already at or near state of the art in our operations.

Production should remain about the same, too, he said.

I dont foresee much change. We are at or near budget level, the level at which we need to run to remain economically feasible over the long run, Salmon said.

Market conditions have little effect on the day-to-day operations, he said.

We tend to operate for the long term. We can weather the tough times. The market is not great right now, but there are some signs of improvement. This is a cyclical business and we try to weather the drops in the market, Salmon said. We figure the market will come back.

Bly said that one of the prime buyers of Elgin stud mill products is Home Depot Distribution Center in Denver.

They like our premium 2-by-4 made of Douglas fir or white fir. Its designed so retail outlets can offer a product that is the same each time a customer comes in. Each time a guy comes in and buys a 2-by-4, its made of high-quality material, a straight piece, with a good tight knot, Bly said. Other building products include window frames for Anderson Windows and Pella Windows.

Boise employs 800 people in this region, with an annual wage and benefits package totalling $34,216,024