Deep Roots, New Branches: Warren County's Forest Products Industry
1.7 seconds. That’s how long it takes to turn a log into lumber at High and High Lumber Company in Vaughan, NC. It takes sophisticated technology and a highly skilled operator to saw wood at that speed—fortunately, High and High has both. Looking over the saw operator’s shoulder, watching logs whizz by, I am reminded that an industry can simultaneously be very old and very modern. In Warren County, we call this “rural innovation:” taking new approaches to traditional livelihoods.
With three hardwood mills that produce more than 31 million board feet of lumber annually, Warren is a regional leader in hardwood production. Lumber byproducts—64,000 tons of chips, 42,000 tons of sawdust, and more than 18,000 tons of bark—are valuable in their own right. Chips are sent to an in-county chip mill, where they are shipped out on rail cars to the paper plant. Bark becomes mulch that is used by landscapers across the Triangle. Sawdust, finally, is used for energy production, either as boiler fuel or wood pellets.
One local lumber mill, Smoke House Lumber, has been able to grow by developing a distinctive specialty: the production of environmental silt fence stakes. In the last four years, even as other companies were downsizing to survive the recession, Smoke House launched this product line and grew it into a $3.8 million business—making it the largest manufacturer of these stakes in the nation.
Two of the county’s largest manufacturers, meanwhile, convert forest products into packaging: Elberta Crate and Box is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of wirebound wooden crates, and International Paper operates a highly productive cardboard container plant in the Manson community. Many of the containers produced by these companies are used in another leading natural resource-based industry: agriculture.
Through Warren County’s local forest products supply chain, our verdant forests are able to provide income and jobs for many in our community—landowners, loggers, sawmill operators, landscapers, plant workers, and more. That’s the beauty of building our economy from the ground up—literally.
Author: Gabriel Cumming, Ph.D., Director, Warren County Economic Development