Weyerhaeuser held a job fair near Columbia Falls last week, hiring for 30 local positions in the wood-products company as it expects a modest year of housing growth and accelerated building activity.
The job fair, held June 12 and 13 at the Country Inn and Suites near Glacier Park International Airport, went well and led to filling many of the open positions, according to Human Resources Manager Jacey Barnaby.
“We had about 70 people come through,” Barnaby said. “We were very pleased.”
The jobs offered ranged from entry-level production to skilled trades at Weyerhaeuser’s Columbia Falls medium-density fiberboard plant. Tom Ray, Montana resource team leader for Weyerhaeuser, said the openings are the result of some experienced workforce retirements and efficiencies within the company.
“Our mills are very efficient,” Ray said. “They’re run really well, and that starts with great people and we need a few more.”
The company is one of the largest private owners of timberlands in the world, with more than 12 million acres of timberland, nearly 9,300 employees and 35 wood-products manufacturing facilities.
In the Flathead, Weyerhaeuser employs “just under 600” people, Ray said, a number that he says has held relatively steady since the company’s merger with Plum Creek Timber Company in 2016.
After the merger, Weyerhaeuser announced the closure of its lumber mill and plywood mill in Columbia Falls, eliminating 100 jobs, citing a log-supply shortage.
However, in the company’s first quarter report to investors this year, Weyerhaeuser CEO and President David Stockfish said the company anticipates modest growth in housing and accelerated building activity in the second quarter.
Todd Morgan, director of Forest Industry Research at the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said lumber prices have come down considerably since last year’s record levels. Last May, 1,000 board feet of lumber cost $639 on the commodities market. As of last week, lumber was $373.80 per 1,000 feet.
“Prices now for lumber and the other major wood products are down; they’re down quite a bit,” Morgan said. “It’s pretty substantial.”
High lumber prices typically mean tighter supplies to meet the demands, as well as increased costs for home construction, he said.
“With lumber prices pretty low, big companies like Weyerhaeuser are trying to maximize every penny from every little piece of wood they bring in the door,” Morgan said. “It’s all about efficiencies in their production process and efficiencies of scale.”
Domestic log sales are expected to be a “bit better” this year than they were last year, Morgan said, though he expected log exports to slow with the trade tensions with China.
“Things have slowed down in China and maybe to some extent Korea and Japan, but China’s a big one,” Morgan said. “The trade tension between the U.S. and China and the U.S. and Canada might be making it easier for the Canadians to do business with the Chinese.”
The forest-products industry has also not been immune to the skilled-worker shortage, Morgan said, adding that Montana’s unemployment is very low, tightening the job market for employers and putting more emphasis on competitive wages and benefits to attract employees.
Ray said Weyerhaeuser’s jobs start at $18.08 an hour, and there is opportunity to move up the ranks or learn new skills, making these jobs potential starts of careers.
“The minimum starting wage is over $18 an hour and all the benefits that come with that,” Ray said. “Generally, you might start at that lowest rate per hour, but typically in the first year you’re moving up.”