Turbulent Decade? TP&EE Has The Cure

Looking back at the events of 10 years ago this fall, it’s been a turbulent decade indeed: Remember John McCain, down in the polls, suspending his presidential campaign and heading back to DC to help “save” the U.S. economy, which was in free-fall by the end of 2008, losing as many as 200,000 jobs a month before the carnage slowed? The rest is indeed history: The Great (Banker) Bailout, The Great Recession and the sluggish recovery that’s still a bit sluggish in some ways a decade later. I distinctly remember economist Roger Tutterow at the 2010 Panel World Panel & Engineered Lumber Conference & Expo in Atlanta telling a roomful of skeptics that, technically, the economy had actually been getting better since summer 2009. He was right, but it sure didn’t make the audience feel much better.

The early years of the past turbulent decade featured the lowest prices for many forest products since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

It’s hard to imagine those business conditions 10 years ago today, as the forest products industry enjoys some of its highest prices ever—ever—especially on the lumber side. Right now there’s swelling demand and much improved or improving pricing throughout lumber and panel markets.

Right now, producers are running wide open, and trying to schedule maintenance, much less major capital improvements, can be tough. There’s also a growing backlog among equipment and system vendors that have orders and projects scheduled well into the future.

Of course, most everyone would rather grapple with these “good” problems to have during positive market conditions like right now. But good problems can also be tough to solve.

One common denominator with all these “good problem” issues is labor: finding not only people but the right people, training them and in many cases introducing them to the industry. All over, people are looking for more and better employees  in an overall improving business environment.

Labor is also a driving force for two trends the forest products industry needs to watch closely: mass timber building concepts and more pre-fab construction in general. Mass timber offers lower labor requirements for installation and quicker overall construction times, and in more traditional building there’s a movement to take as much labor off the job site as possible through pre-fab construction, and moving (and automating) as much labor as possible on a factory floor instead of on the job.

The forest products industry will be asked to provide products that facilitate both trends, and smart operators will keep not only a close eye on current operations, but also an eye on trends and changes that might shape the future not only for the big picture but also in their backyards.

As the forest products industry gathers in Portland, Ore. for the 2018 Timber Processing & Energy Expo October 17-19, these issues will be on the minds of both visitors and exhibitors: more technology and automation leading to smarter, more efficient operations—with the right people to operate and mange them.

At the Portland Expo Center in mid October—timberprocessingandenergyexpo.com—there’ll be plenty of both.

Article by Dan Shell,
Managing Editor

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