Local Lumber Exports Increasing
Marlinton,WV – The forests of the Appalachian Mountains produce a unique variety of hardwoods. Appalachian hardwoods are renowned for their strength and durability, as well as their consistent color and grain patterns. General manager Emery Grimes, of Cramer Lumber in Marlinton, says exports now make up most of Cramer’s sales.
“Back four of five years ago, we was probably 90-percent domestic,” he said. “Now, it’s changed. We’re probably 50 to 60-percent export and about 40-percent domestic.”
Grimes says cheap labor has attracted many furniture companies overseas.
“The demand from overseas has increased a lot because of their labor cost over there,” he said. “A lot of the furniture factories that I dealt with for years – and I’ve been in this business for 30 years – have moved to China because of labor costs. They don’t have to put up with all the rules and regulations that we have here in the United States, and the labor is a lot cheaper because it’s a communist country.”
The decline in the US housing market caused Cramer to change its business model.
“It hit us worse to start with and it still is, because we are directly connected to the housing market” Grimes said. “Now, all of us in the country know what housing has done. Housing hasn’t rebounded very little.”
“To be honest, if it hadn’t have been for the export market, I don’t know whether we’d be here or not. There is a lot of sawmills that are non-existent anymore – they just went out of business. We shut our mill down about a year ago. Now, what we do is -we buy in green lumber. We dry it and we sell it out kiln-dried and we’ve been fairly successful doing that. The money’s made there, in the log, rather than putting it through the mill.”
At current fuel prices, it’s cheaper to send a load of wood to China than to Miami, Florida.
“Right now, on a container load of lumber, if we had to deliver it to China, it’s about $1,850 delivered,” said Grimes. “If we have to send it to Florida, the Miami, Florida region, it’s about $2,550. The reason the barge fee is a lot cheaper is, you can put somewhere around 5,000 to 7,000 containers on one barge.”
Grimes expects exports to continue to increase.
“We’re going to see more and more of it,” he said. “In the next year or two, we’re going to ship probably 80-percent of everything we’ve got here – not only lumber, but logs too – to China and Vietnam. As China keeps growing, their population wants more of what we’ve got. So, they’re using more and more of this in their own country, too.”
Despite billions of acres of forests in Asia, foreign manufacturers demand Appalachian hardwoods.
“You’re in the Appalachian hardwood region right here, which is the greatest hardwoods in the world,” said Grimes. “They get wider boards – they get longer boards – they get greater color. It takes a certain species of timber or lumber to make good furniture. Even though they may have a lot of timber – which we know Russia – Russia has got one of the largest timber bases in the world – but it’s so cold, the average size of a log is 12 inches.”
Grimes misses the days when he got to know his buyers personally.
“As long as we had them furniture factories located in Virginia and North Carolina, you could go see them boys,” he said. “And now, it’s not like that. We have got an international department located out of Augusta, Georgia. They deal with agents in China and it’s all done by email. There’s none of this one-on-one anymore – you know, the personal touch – like we used to have.”
The manager says furniture companies are starting up again in the U.S.
“We’re seeing a little bit of people moving back here now,” he said. “There’s a few small furniture factories opening back up in North Carolina and the Virginias. But, they’re very slim and it’s like they’re starting over again.”