Weyerhaeuser Co. will make new investments in its Longview sawmill and continue developing business at its liquid packaging plant in spite of slumping markets, company officials said at a community briefing at the Cowlitz County Event Center Thursday.
In the next few weeks, the sawmill will get a new swing machine to speed up log handling and processing, said Erik Wilson, sawmill operations manager. Wilson wouldn’t say how much the swing machine would cost, but said it was a “significant” investment similar to installation of another swing machine last year.
“It’s been a good year for the sawmill,” Wilson said, highlighting how the 240-employee mill has met goals for production and safety.
At the same time, he noted that lumber prices have continued to be “stagnant and on the low end” all year. The sawmill cuts Douglas fir mostly for Nevada, California and Arizona lumber markets.
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Weyerhaeuser also took a hit in international markets this year. Slowing construction activity in China and the strong U.S. dollar have dampened log exports this year, so Weyerhaeuser is continuing to shift some of its logs from export to domestic markets. That has dragged down profits, company officials said. Net sales from timberlands dropped $10 million in the third quarter from the previous quarter.
Global economic trends have also affected the liquid packaging plant in Longview. The plant temporary laid off 180 workers in January, blaming the port dispute for a loss in Asian customers. Although that crisis has passed, now the plant is coping with the stronger U.S. dollar. That “makes our products look more expensive” to overseas customers, said Tim Haynes, mill manager. The packaging plant exports of half of what it produces, he added.
Despite export challenges, Hanes said the plant is seeing signs of growth in its paper cup and bottle business. He held up a sample paper coffee cup with “Weyerhaeuser” printed in green on it for display. Although the cups aren’t actually made in Longview, Weyerhaeuser supplies the paper for double-walled cups that don’t require a sleeve, increasingly favored by many chain cafes and fast food restaurants. There is also room for growth in working with companies like TetraPak to package alternative milks and juices, Hanes said.
NORPAC also striving to diversify its products to fight declining revenue from newsprint and book sales. It’s “Natural Choice Paper” office/copy paper, introduced into the local market earlier this year, now has 100 customers locally, said Ray Harrison, project manager at NORPAC.
Overall in the third quarter, Weyerhaeuser’s net sales totaled $1.8 billion, a 5 percent decline from the same quarter last year. However, cost cuts pushed up net earnings to $180 million, up from $178 million in the same quarter last year. As the year ends, company officials expect a boost from improving housing markets in Japan and the U.S.
The Longview sawmill and liquid packaging plant continues to search for skilled crafts journeymen and other technical professionals, officials said at the community briefing.
The Daily News, Longview, Wash.