Although it won't create a huge amount of new jobs, with Klickitat County's unemployment rate at 12 percent in the latest numbers, every good job is precious. So there is a lot of interest surrounding expansion of the stud mill at SDS Lumber Co. in Bingen.
According to SDS President Jason Spadaro, the new operation is nearing completion. Spadaro said he is hopeful it will be ready to go sometime between now and the end of March.
"We've tested some logs, but we're not there yet," Spadaro said. "We're still working on it, but the machinery is basically installed. We hope to get it done in the first quarter."
When the mill is completed, the company will hire a new barker crew and a planer mill crew to process additional dimensional lumber.
"There will be a net gain of about 20 workers," Spadaro said.
Spadaro said technicians need to complete work on control and electrical components before the new sawing line would be ready to roll. Computers control the cut, the conveyers, and the machinery that puts everything in motion, and a good deal of fine-tuning is required get it all ready.
"It's pretty complicated to develop these computer systems," Spadaro explained.
The high-tech process, developed in-house by SDS technicians, provides what Spadaro calls "computer-optimization" of the cut. That allows SDS to maximize the value of each log.
The new line is designed to handle logs with up to a 28-inch diameter. Currently, logs with a maximum 18-inch diameter can be processed.
"This will give us more flexibility in the market," Spadaro said.
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel said he was happy that SDS was expanding its stud mill capabilities. Prigel pointed out that improvements at SDS would benefit the city of Bingen in turn.
"Certainly it will be good for jobs, and will help SDS maintain the value of its operations and the plant," Prigel said. "That will help our property tax collections. SDS represents a significant portion of our tax base."
Prigel added that a large number of SDS employees live in Bingen.
There has been some additional good news for SDS and its employees lately: the plywood market has improved, and SDS has been able to increase plywood production as a result.
"In the latter half of last year, market conditions changed for the positive and SDS added more plywood production and hired some people," Spadaro said.
According to Spadaro, the market uptick allowed SDS to increase its plywood production from about 25 percent to about 60 percent of previous levels. SDS has added approximately 20 workers to handle the growth.
Spadaro said there was no way to tell how long the plywood market would remain strong, but he said the markets appear healthy for now, and trends are positive.
"There was a peak at the end of the third quarter last year," Spadaro explained. "It has come off that a bit, but the numbers are still respectable."
In January 2002, SDS laid off 75 workers in the plywood plant and reduced the amount of plywood being produced.
Spadaro said SDS has been producing more standard grade plywood sheets lately, as opposed to specialty plywood. The specialty plywood was more labor-intensive, and therefore less competitive in the marketplace.