RIEGELWOOD, NC (WECT) - At the West Fraser mill in Riegelwood, logs come in and lumber goes out, but not as much as before the housing bubble burst late last decade.
Still, the Canadian company that claims to be the largest lumber producer in North America, has invested nearly $35 million in its Columbus County facility in recent years, betting on increased demand for southern yellow pine lumber.
"We will live and die with the housing market," said Peter Provincher, West Fraser's region manager.
There are signs of a rebound. The U.S. Commerce Department announced Tuesday that spending on housing construction in October was higher than expected.
Provincher said the news supports West Fraser's capital spending in Columbus County.
The upgrades, rolled out over the past four years, involved adding a new finishing mill, two dry kilns and a new back-end on the saw mill. It's part of an effort to get the most out of every log and make machines do more of the work.
"The sawmills of years ago were very labor intensive," Provincher said. "Ones that have stayed labor intensive, really aren't around anymore."
Columbus County Economic Developer Gary Lanier said the Riegelwood mill is one of the most efficient in North America thanks to the upgrades supported by $500,000 in county incentives.
During a tour of the plant Monday, county commissioners and members of the economic development commission were told the grant doesn't just benefit West Fraser's 173 local workers, but also area loggers and truckers. Ninety percent of logs that enter the mill come from within 50 miles.
"The domino effect this facility has on our economy is just tremendous," Lanier said.