News & Features

Cuts Imminent Within Plum Creek Front Office; Mills and Public Access Spared

New details shed light on local impacts from merger between Plum Creek, Weyerhaeuser

Plum Creek’s manufacturing operations and public access policy will be preserved in Northwest Montana but some top-level administrative positions are being eliminated in Columbia Falls following a merger between two timber giants, a company official confirmed.

A day before shareholders are scheduled to vote on a major merger between Plum Creek Timber Company and Weyerhaeuser, company officials held a meeting Thursday in Columbia Falls updating salaried employees on looming changes.

Tom Ray, vice president for Northwest resources and manufacturing at Plum Creek, confirmed with the Beacon that the company’s Montana mills are expected to remain open indefinitely and avoid any cutbacks.

“Once the merger is complete, Weyerhaeuser plans to continue manufacturing operations as they are in Montana right now. That’s the good news,” Ray said. “It will remain business as usual for all of the mills.”

Weyerhaeuser Spokesman Anthony Chavez has declined to comment on any changes until the merger closes.

Plum Creek, which operates stud and plywood mills in Evergreen and plywood and medium density fiberboard plants, as well as a sawmill, in Columbia Falls while also overseeing forestry, real estate and land sales across the state, employs 759 people in Montana, 633 of whom are employed by the manufacturing division.

Weyerhaeuser also plans to continue Plum Creek’s long-standing free public access policy on timberlands, Ray said.

Plum Creek is the largest private landowner in Montana with more than 880,000 acres in eight counties in the western half of the state. In other states, Weyerhaeuser allows paid access on much of its land through permits and exclusive leases that can cost up to $275.

The largest impacts from the merger appear to be centered on Plum Creek’s Cedar Palace headquarters in Columbia Falls, where roughly 100 people work in administrative positions, including human resources, accounting, payroll and legal.

“While jobs that support manufacturing will remain in Montana, we do expect that after the merger is completed that many corporate-function jobs, such as IT, accounting and HR, will transition to the (Weyerhaeuser) Seattle headquarters over time,” Ray said.

Ray said it would take some time to determine the exact realignment of positions in the new company structure, but he did confirm that some local employees would lose their jobs.

“We want to be transparent with our employees,” Ray said. “We’ll continue to communicate with them as this merger moves forward.”

As part of the merger announcement in early November, Weyerhaeuser said it had set a target of $100 million in cutbacks, or “synergies,” that would likely come from corporate overhead and regional overhead where there is overlap between the two companies.

Ray declined to speculate on how many positions could be eliminated but did say that not everyone in the Columbia Falls office will retain a position under the new company.

“There will be opportunities to relocate to Seattle for some people and they will have a chance to look at positions, but not everyone will have that opportunity,” he said. “We just can’t speculate (about how many positions will be eliminated.) We’re operating two separate companies. We’ve got to get the merger closed and then we’ll be able to develop more of the details moving forward.”

If an employee does not have an opportunity in the new company, severance and outplacement services will be provided, Ray said.

Ray estimated that the changes would play out over the next 24 months.

Ray, who has served as vice president since 2009, confirmed that he was not offered a position with Weyerhaeuser’s manufacturing division. He said he remains in discussions for a possible position in the company’s timberlands division after the merger.

Jon Rashleigh, an existing Plum Creek employee, has been named the Montana area general manager in the wood products division.

Mark Miller, Plum Creek’s current vice president and chief information officer, was named the chief information officer of Weyerhaeuser.

Plum Creek CEO Rick Holley will chair the board of the new company and Weyerhaeuser’s CEO Doyle Simons will be president and CEO.

A log loader drives past stacks of logs at the Plum Creek Evergreen mill. Beacon File Photo

A log loader drives past stacks of logs at the Plum Creek Evergreen mill. Beacon File Photo

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Thursday that Weyerhaeuser confirmed it will eliminate certain administrative jobs.

“I am disappointed in Weyerhaeuser’s decision to relocate some accounting, human resources, and IT jobs to the company’s corporate headquarters as a result of its merger with Plum Creek, but I am tremendously pleased that hundreds of jobs in Montana’s timber industry will remain in the state,” Bullock said in a statement to the Beacon.

Bullock commended the company for retaining employees in the manufacturing division and maintaining its public land access policy.

Following the merger announcement, Bullock and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester wrote letters to Weyerhaeuser asking for assurances that jobs and public access would be maintained after the massive deal was completed. Bullock met with Simons in recent months to further discuss the issue and welcome the company to the state, according to the governor’s office.

Founded under a different name in Minnesota in 1944, Plum Creek’s roots run deep in Columbia Falls. In 1946, the company’s founder, D.C. Dunham, moved his small upstart lumber business to the Flathead Valley and opened a sawmill in Columbia Falls, renaming it Plum Creek after a small stream back in Minnesota. The plywood plant in Columbia Falls broke ground in 1964 and opened the following year. The MDF plant opened in Columbia Falls in 1974.

In the following decades, the company expanded its reach with more than 6 million acres of timberlands in 19 states, becoming one of the largest timber companies and landowners in America. It also developed a legacy of conservation by donating land and funds to The Nature Conservancy and other organizations to protect large swaths of open space, particularly in Northwest Montana. Over 1.5 million acres of land, including 613,000 in Montana, have been given to conservation organizations through land sales, easements and land exchanges.

The company suffered significant setbacks in the last decade, closing mills in Evergreen and Pablo while also reducing production in Columbia Falls. In 2013, the company announced it was reopening its stud mill in Evergreen with 30 jobs and investing $5.8 million into its Montana manufacturing facilities.

In 2014, Plum Creek provided $205,000 in financial support to community organizations in addition to $15,000 in scholarships to Montana students.

Founded in Washington in 1900, Weyerhaeuser operates 18 lumber mills, six oriented strand board mills, six engineered wood mills, three veneer/plywood facilities and 21 distribution centers in the U.S. and Canada.

The company, which has over 12,600 employees and is in the process of relocating its headquarters to downtown Seattle from the nearby suburbs, announced in November that it was buying Plum Creek for $8.4 billion.

The merger will form the nation’s largest private owner of timberland under the Weyerhaeuser name with more than 13 million acres across the U.S. Three million of those acres will be in the Pacific Northwest, which will provide “high-value softwood saw logs, mostly Douglas fir, and primarily serve the West Coast housing and Asian export markets,” according to company officials.

The merger will be finalized in the coming months after Friday’s shareholder vote.

If you enjoy stories like this one, please consider joining the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Club. For as little as $5 per month, Editor’s Club members support independent local journalism and earn a pipeline to Beacon journalists. Members also gain access to www.beaconeditorsclub.com, where they will find exclusive content like deep dives into our biggest stories and a behind-the-scenes look at our newsroom.