Low demand, lack of timber blamed for closure of Arlington sawmill, loss of 40 jobs

ARLINGTON — Another Snohomish County sawmill is closing.

The city is losing Northwest Hardwoods, at 20015 67th Ave. NE. It will close Thursday because of a shortage of local timber and low demand for finished products for housing.

The closure means 40 people will lose their jobs. Northwest Hardwoods is the second mill in the county in about a month to announce it is closing. The Seattle-Snohomish Mill in Snohomish is shutting down in March. That mill employed 50 people.

Northwest Hardwoods employed about 60 people. The company offered more than half of them a similar position at other facilities owned by the Tacoma-based company. Some were unwilling to relocate their families, vice president of human resources Brian Narramore said.

The sawmill has been open since 1967 and was bought by Weyerhaeuser Co., the parent company of Northwest Hardwoods, in 1980. Northwest Hardwoods was then sold to New York-based American Industrial Partners in August 2011. Thursday is the last production day. Staff will continue to work on clean-up and the shipping of materials after that. The mill could be put up for sale, as well, Narramore said.

View Northwest Hardwoods in a larger map

Northwest Hardwoods also runs mills in Centralia and Longview in Washington, as well as in Oregon, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Those sawmills have seen their hours reduced, but they are stable, Narramore said.

The mill has seen a reduction in operations since 2007, when the mill employed about 100 people and required two shifts and overtime to meet demand, Narramore said. Since then, hours and the number of employees have dropped.

One reason the Arlington sawmill struggled more than the company’s other mills: Nearby landowners are not harvesting as many trees. Northwest Hardwoods had to look for sources of timber elsewhere, resulting in greater expense to transport logs.

The other problem was low demand for timber to build homes, a trend that is affecting sawmills regionwide.

“We had conflicts on both sides,” Narramore said, referring to both supply and demand, “and we don’t see it getting any better.”

Mills are counted as part of the wood-manufacturing industry, which today represents less than 1 percent of jobs in Snohomish County, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, Snohomish County regional labor economist for the Employment Security Department.

Few though they are, those forest-products jobs provide family wages, she said.

“As long as the construction industry is weak, those jobs will be hard to recover,” Vance-Sherman said.

The jobs in the industry have been decreasing steadily in recent years. In 2007, the number of jobs in the county peaked with a monthly average of 2,258. By last year, the average was 1,200, according to the Employment Security Department.

There is some faint hope for improvement.

In its preliminary February report, the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council said housing construction, while still weak, has improved slightly in the past two months. Also, employment in construction could increase this year.

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@heraldnet.com.

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