It’s a rare thing for a small sawmill to try to get up and running while a crucial market driver for lumber — housing construction — remains in a national slump. So when the Emerald Forest Products mill reopened in Emmett, Idaho this month, something unusual was happening. “That’s a news story,” timber industry expert Todd Morgan said of the new mill. “That’s like, ‘man bites dog’ instead of ‘dog bites man.’ It’s very counter to the trend to have a new mill opening during these market conditions.”
New home starts peaked in 2005, when construction began on more than 2 million homes. By 2009, the number had fallen to 554,000, a low not seen in 40 years of record keeping. Housing starts haven’t improved much since. Moreover, the housing crash came on the heels of decades of timber industry consolidation. Since 1990, Pacific Northwest mill closures have put thousands of people out of work.
Given all of that, how is the Emerald Forest Product mill making a go of it? Part of the answer is federal economic stimulus funding. To get up and running, the mill received $4 million in stimulus money through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mill owner Dick Vinson and his partners put up an additional $11 million, Vinson says.