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Montana timber industry sees success and challenges during COVID-19 pandemic

Montana timber industry seeing success and challenges during pandemic
Posted at 12:46 PM, Oct 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 10:28:12-04

CLANCY — Although Montana's timber industry is smaller than it was at its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, it still remains an important economic driver for the state and many communities.

According to a report from the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, Montana's forest industry generated sales totaling $553 million in 2018, producing 483 million board feet of lumber.

The industry employed nearly 8,000 people generating $364 million in earnings.

Montana Timber in 2018

Yet producers continue to face challenges and find success as they navigate an extended COVID-19 pandemic that has brought surging lumber prices as well as complicated the supply chain and workforce.

Marks Lumber in Clancy has seen some drastic changes in its industry during the past year and a half. With shortages in many industries, lumber hasn’t been an exception.

As many across the country and in Montana have experienced, housing has become a tedious and difficult situation to maneuver. For Marks Lumber, working directly with the housing industry has been a bit of a double-edged sword.

With the increased demand for new houses, business doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. This increased demand for lumber allowed the price to surge for manufacturers and into profitable margins. While that price has come down in recent months, it’s still hard to keep up with the demand.

“It's been a very good couple years for us. With new people coming to Montana, they want the modern mountain look. We feel very blessed to be in the spot we’re in,” said Owner Steve Marks.

However, with the increased price of housing and the limited number of places to live, Marks says it’s harder to get employees from out of town who want to work.

“It’s difficult finding good employees. It’s expensive,” he noted. “With the cost of housing so high, they can’t relocate. They can’t find a home within their budget. That hampers employment.”

Through thick and thin, a day doesn’t go by that marks isn’t thankful for the Montana community that has supported and developed around his multigenerational family business.

“I’ve been doing this 32 years, 33 years and it’s taken a long, long time to have the kind of customer base that we have. You don’t build these kind of reputations overnight. It takes a long time. We’ve got some fantastic employees.”

While the pandemic continues to disrupt supply and demand, some essential industries, like lumber, may continue to see turbulence in the future. In the meantime, thankfully timber prices are less than earlier this year and business is stronger than ever.