September 24, 2009
By John Sowell
The Swanson Group has been selected to receive $100,000 from a federal grant meant to protect jobs in Oregon’s struggling timber industry.
The money, from a Trade Adjustment Assistance grant issued through the federal Economic Development Administration, will be used to create a new market strategy and to improve efficiency through the use of advanced computer software. It will also pay for training costs.
The new software will give Swanson the ability to evaluate each individual log to determine the best use. That will help the company maximize efficiency and boost revenues.
“We’ll get better total recovery,” said Steve Swanson, company president and chief executive officer.
The grant, which the Swanson Group will match, will also allow the company to carry out a market analysis and develop new products less susceptible to imports.
“It’s a very substantial grant. This money is meant to make companies more competitive,” U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio said. “All of this comes with anticipation of the housing market coming back, hopefully, next spring.”
Since 1994, trade agreements have cost Oregon more than 10,000 jobs, mostly in Southern Oregon, the Springfield Democrat said.
The Swanson Group, based in Glendale, operates five sawmills and plywood plants. Two are located in Glendale, with the others in Roseburg, Springfield and Noti, west of Eugene.
The company employs 500 workers but is only running at 40 percent capacity because of the downturn in the housing and construction industries. The company has laid off 40 percent of its workforce in response to the soft market.
“It’s going to be helpful,” Swanson said, “but it’s not going to be the savior of the industry.”
An extension of the $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time home buyers would also provide a boost to his company and other timber companies, Swanson said. He would also like to see the program expanded to provide a credit to all buyers, not just individuals and couples buying their first home.
With the homes sold during the current program, which expires Nov. 30, reducing the inventory of available homes, an extension could promote new home construction, he said. That would lead to an increased demand for lumber and other wood products used in home construction, he said.
“Every little bit helps,” Swanson said.
Swanson said he was pleasantly surprised to receive the grant. The company, he said, had tried unsuccessfully to obtain retraining grants from the same agency for laid-off workers at Swanson’s Roseburg and Springfield plants.
Reprinted with permission