Pyramid Mountain Lumber is applying for a state grant to hire six additional people to help with its transition to new technology.
Chief Operating Officer Loren Rose told Missoula County Commissioners Tuesday that the technology will help the long-time Seeley Lake-based company streamline their operations and increase their lumber output. With between 125 and 130 current employees and annual revenues totaling $30 million, Pyramid is the largest employer in the Seeley Lake area and the only remaining sawmill in Missoula County.
“We’re one of eight sawmills of any consequence left in Montana,” Rose said.
Nicole Rush, the business initiatives director for the Missoula Economic Partnership, said the new jobs would pay around $19.65 per hour (including benefits), which is above the average county wage. The company is seeking a one-time grant of $45,000 from the Big Sky Trust Fund.
Rose said they plan to spend $2.5 million to $3 million on technology to help grade logs, based in part on their size, whether they’re green or dry, and their quality. They currently have nine people who do the work; some will be retained to doublecheck the technology’s work, while others will be retrained for work elsewhere in the plant.
He explained that one job for the graders involves deciding whether each piece of lumber is more valuable as a long piece of wood or in a shorter size. That involves a calculation that the technology can evaluate more quickly than humans, Rose added.
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“We’re not sure where it’s all going to land, but we’ll have more production and more people. That’s the simple equation,” Rose said.
In other business Tuesday, the commission decided to make a counter-offer to Palazzo Properties LLC for the final lot in the Missoula Development Park near the airport. Palazzo offered $50,000 in cash, with no financing or appraisal required for the county's lot, but wants to “conduct due diligence to determine if the location and layout of the lot will allow for his proposed development,” Dori Brownlow, executive director of the Missoula County Development District, wrote in a memo to the commission.
About one-third of the lot appears to be too steep for development. Based on that, Brownlow and the Missoula Development Authority recommended a counter-offer of $75,000, which is $4.64 per usable square foot. That square-footage price is based upon the sale of two adjacent lots that were sold in December 2018.
Brownlow said the $50,000 offer equated to $3.13 per square foot for the use of two-thirds of the property, or $2.09 per square foot for the entire lot, which is just under 23,957 square feet.
The original county asking price was $6 per square foot, but Brownlow said based on the previous offers for lots in the park, that amount probably was too high.
Commissioners also approved a letter to the City of Missoula, saying they support the new annexation policy under consideration by the City Council.
“Over the course of the past few years, the level of cooperation and coordination between our two jurisdictions on land use planning issues has proven beneficial in development of policy and in practice,” the letter reads. “We specifically endorse the annexation policy concept that provides the opportunity for negotiation of agreements between the city and county in cases where annexation is undesirable. There are many potential strategies to execute these agreements, and we look forward to working with the City of Missoula to further refine this option.”