COLUMBIA FALLS – Sixteen fewer people than initially feared will lose their jobs when Weyerhaeuser begins closing its lumber and plywood mills in Columbia Falls next week.
Well over 200 employees are being affected by the closure of the two plants, but 146 of them will be transferred to either Weyerhaeuser’s stud mill or plywood plant in Kalispell, where extra shifts are being added, according to Tom Ray, Montana resources team leader for the company.
That’s up from 130, the figure given in June when Weyerhaeuser announced the closures.
“After a thorough examination of the shifts being added in Kalispell, we were able to offer 146 people jobs,” Ray said.
The Columbia Falls operations employed 230 people at the time of the announcement. A dozen have “voluntarily terminated their employment” in the weeks since, according to Ray.
With the resignations, and the increase in jobs available in Kalispell, it means 72 people will be out of work when the two Columbia Falls plants permanently close.
Initially, the company said 100 jobs would be eliminated.
Weyerhaeuser will continue to operate a medium-density fiberboard plant in Columbia Falls that employs approximately 200 people, but the toll on the community is still great.
Up to 100 other administrative jobs in what was known as the “cedar palace” in Columbia Falls were already in the process of being eliminated or moved to Weyerhaeuser’s Seattle headquarters when the plant closures were announced.
The main office in Columbia Falls will be permanently closed by the end of the year, according to the company.
Weyerhaeuser purchased the former Plum Creek Timber Company, which had operated in Columbia Falls for seven decades, for $8.44 billion four months before the June closure announcement.
The company blamed a “chronic log supply shortage” on the decision to shut down the two Columbia Falls facilities.
Last week, Weyerhaeuser also announced its second quarter earnings for 2016 were the company’s highest of any quarter in the last decade – net earnings of $157 million, on net sales of $1.7 billion.
The last logs will go through the two Columbia Falls mills that are closing on Friday, Aug. 19, Ray said.
“As you follow the work stream, after they’re cut, they still have to be stacked, put in a dry kiln, planed, graded, packaged and shipped,” he said. “There will also be clean-up work, so most employees will continue past the 19th for a few weeks.”
The very last day, he said, is estimated to be sometime in mid-September.
With the fiberboard plant in Columbia Falls and the stud mill and plywood plant in Kalispell, Weyerhaeuser will still employ more than 550 people in the Flathead Valley, Ray said.
In announcing the solid second quarter, Weyerhaeuser president and CEO Doyle Simons said, “Going forward, we remain relentlessly focused on successfully integrating Plum Creek, and fully capturing cost and operational synergies to drive superior value for our shareholders.”
“For some time now our operations in Montana have been running below capacity as a result of an ongoing shortage of logs in the region,” Simons added. “These closures will allow us to align the available log supply with our manufacturing capacity, including adding shifts at our Kalispell facilities. These moves will improve the operating performance of our remaining mills and best position these mills for long-term success.”