Photo by Christopher Millette
Lumber company president Les Facemyer says much of the state's timber industry conists of small, family-owned companies like his.
By Ken Ward Jr.
RIPLEY -- Leroy Cadle pulls on the lever again. Another red oak flips over and heads toward the spinning saw blade at Facemyer Lumber's mill. The blade shaves off another in an endless stream of flat, straight boards.
Thanks to computerized sawmill equipment, Cadle and 20 other workers here in Jackson County churn out maybe 200,000 board feet of lumber every week.
About 15 percent of it is trucked across the state to Randolph County, where Bruce Hardwoods makes floors out of it. Another 40 percent is made into pallets and other low-end products, with some of that production taking place in West Virginia.
But most of Faceymyer's high-quality lumber goes out of state -- to Virginia or North Carolina to make cabinets -- or to Japan to make furniture parts.
"We're a maker of high-grade logs," said company president Les Facemyer. "We're more into good lumber."
Despite the growth of huge new timber mills across the state, observers say much of the West Virginia timber industry is still small, family-owned mills like Facemyer's.
A 1994 report by the state Division of Forestry lists dozens of medium to small sawmills from Mason to Morgantown.
"Sure, we have big plants in this state, but it's still a pretty much family business," Facemyer said.
In 1990, 80 percent of the forestry industry's jobs were in logging camps and sawmills. By contrast, furniture making accounted for only 8 percent of the jobs.
Logging camps and sawmills might employ only a handful of people. But their true economic impacts can stretch beyond their own workers.
West Virginia University economists studied Facemyer Lumber to try to get a handle on these so-called spinoff jobs.
They concluded the mill is responsible for 43 other jobs. These include people who make and sell the mill its sawblades, workers who make sure the mill has electricity and water service, agents who sell the company its insurance and grocers who sell workers their food.
Facemyer Lumber generates a total economic impact of $8.5 million, according to the WVU study.
Also, the sawmill receives logs from about 50 suppliers within a 50-mile radius of Ripley. The average number of workers per supplier is about 3, so that is another 150 or so jobs, WVU researchers found.
West Virginia could get even more jobs out of its trees if it started processing lumber from its sawmills into furniture or other products here.
To get a handle on this, WVU researchers studied the economic impact of one of Facemyer Lumber's customers, Bruce Hardwood Floors in Beverly, south of Elkins.
Bruce Hardwood, a subsidiary of Triangle Pacific, makes oak hardwood floors. At the time of the WVU study, the company employed about 190 workers with an annual payroll of $3.3 million .
WVU researchers estimated Bruce Hardwood created about 180 spinoff jobs with an annual payroll of about $3.5 million.
Since the study was published in 1992, Bruce Hardwood has added more employees. It presumably added more spinoff jobs in the Randolph County region as well.
WVU researchers also studied the total impact of the state's forestry industry. They found:
Roughly 10,300 direct jobs and $1.3 billion in business volume. For wood products alone, without trucking, concentration yards, and wholesaling, the totals are 9,054 in employment and $984 million in business volume.
All told, the West Virginia wood products industry was responsible for 16,803 jobs in the state, 6,526 of them indirectly in non-wood products sectors.
The timber industry has a total economic impact on the state of about $2.1 billion.
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