Publisher’s note: This tale of two towns that lost wood processing manufacturers is all too familiar across the country, from Maine to Arizona to Washington. The losses include tax base, jobs, school enrollment and more. The social ramifications of unemployment, families having to move, sell their homes, kids starting in a new school, stress on the parents have been documented repeatedly.
The positive and rapid evolution of new businesses at the Bonner, Montana, mill site unfortunately is the exception, while the still-vacant site in Frenchtown is more often the rule. In Bonner, the owners recruited a diversity of new businesses which reduces the vulnerability of the community to future dramatic changes. When you are dependent on one large employer, your fate rides with that one company.
There was one business that came into Bonner with roots in the past history of wood processing. It still buys small, rotten and crooked trees and keeps some of the wood products and forest management workers still going. Willis Enterprises, one of the tenants at the Bonner site, buys these low-value logs and debarks and chips them so they can be made into paper and cardboard in other locations. It processes 200,000 or more tons per year, far less than did the Smurfit-Stone plant in Frenchtown once did. Still, it represents about 7,400 truckloads of logs a year. [Read more…]