Before the recession hit, the sawmill in the North Idaho town of Laclede was known for its reliability. It had never seen a shutdown, not in Steve Spletstoser’s nearly 30 years of working there. Then came 2008.
It was really eye-opening to see,” Spletstoser says. “Your livelihood is hanging in the balance.” Day after day, the mill cut lumber, and day after day it piled up. Very little left the lot.
“There was 21 million feet of packaged lumber sitting here,” Spletstoser recalls. “There was no place to park. You almost couldn’t see to drive in here because it was solid wood and it was all ready to ship, and there was no one buying it.”
The housing-fueled economic downturn hit the timber industry hard. In four short years, U.S. demand for lumber fell by nearly 50 percent, giving Northwest timber companies good reason to search out markets overseas.
As one Idaho company discovered, there’s a special symmetry between Japanese home-building preferences and timber from the Intermountain West.