Alabama’s No. 1 industry will log nearly $500 million in investments and improvements by 2019, thanks to new and revamped forest products mills across the state.
The $65 million Two Rivers Lumber Co. sawmill in Demopolis began accepting timber in September. That month, timber titan International Paper (IP) revealed a $300-million investment at its Riverdale Mill in Selma, and Georgia-Pacific (GP) announced a new $100-million lumber production facility in Talladega.
The Alabama Farmers Federation’s William Green said the investments’ effect is twofold — workforce expansion and a much-needed market for timber producers.
“We’re pleased these companies support the forest industry in our state and have decided to invest in our people and natural resources,” said Green, the Federation’s Forestry Division director. “Alabama has 23 million acres of timberland, accounting for 69 percent of the state’s total land area. Private landowners own 87 percent of Alabama timberland.”
Timber production and processing have a $21.4 billion annual economic impact on Alabama.
Independently owned and operated, Two Rivers Lumber employs 57 workers and looks to add a second shift and over 30 jobs in early 2018. The mill accepts 60-70 loads of timber per shift, and annual production should reach 200 million board feet, said Randell Robinson, who oversees the mill’s lumber production.
Two Rivers, a partnership between McElroy Truck Lines in Cuba and Sumter Timber Co. in Jefferson, produces southern yellow pine dimensional lumber. While much material is used in Alabama and surrounding states, lumber is also shipped to the Midwest, up the East Coast and internationally.
“We felt like there was a need for additional markets for the saw timber we’ve been growing,” said Roy Geiger, who’s owned Sumter Timber for 35 years. “We’re familiar with the location and labor pool. We’re hometown people trying to develop a new chapter in our business.”
Sixty miles east on U.S. Highway 80, IP is converting its No. 15 paper machine from producing uncoated freesheet to high quality whitetop linerboard and containerboard. The renovation will add 450,000 tons of annual capacity and will be completed by midyear 2019.
“This investment proactively repositions Riverdale No. 15 to serve our growing packaging business, while enabling us to optimize our North American Papers business,” said IP Senior Vice President Mike Amick Jr.
Selma’s remaining machine will continue to produce uncoated imaging paper products.
GP’s 300,000-square-foot mill will replace a former company plywood mill that closed in 2008. The mill will employ more than 100 full-time employees and generate an annual payroll of $5 million.
The Talladega mill will receive 150 loads of timber daily and produce about 230 million board feet of lumber annually. GP plans to expand production to 300 million board feet.
Earlier this year, GP announced a $50-million investment in its Brewton mill. The company has pumped over $1 billion in additional capital and acquisitions into Alabama in the last five years.
Green said the timber industry’s investment in Alabama and an aging workforce should spur job prospects for younger workers. Geiger agrees.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for people willing to roll up their sleeves, apply themselves and learn the logic of the process,” Geiger said.