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Even With Stimulus Money, Timber Mill Struggles

LIANE HANSEN, Host:

From member station KDNK in Carbondale, Colorado, Conrad Wilson has more.

CONRAD WILSON: A log's first stop at the Delta Timber Company is the delivery yard and Joel Green.

JOEL GREEN: I unload the log trucks when they come in and then I put the logs up on the deck to go through the mill.

WILSON: The log's next stop is Greg Teil and his four-and-a-half-foot circular blade.

GREG TEIL: This job pretty much determines production of the sawmill.

WILSON: Teil's worked here for 12 years.

TEIL: I've got friends that don't have jobs, so yeah, I'm thankful to have a job. That's for sure.

WILSON: Through various owners and names, this sawmill's been around since the early 1950s. And even though it's relatively small, it's the state's second largest mill. It sells wood all over the country and even overseas. But when the housing market crashed two years ago, the demand for lumber dried up.

ERIC SORENSON: Similar to many other mills, that meant loss of revenue and put us on a really tight situation.

WILSON: That's Eric Sorenson. He's co-owned the mill for the last 20 years. By tight, he means Delta Timber almost closed. Sorenson says it was painful, especially thinking about letting go loyal employees.

SORENSON: The decision affected more than just ourselves. And so, to fold up would not only affect us, but it would be a reflection on a piece of the fabric of the community that would be lost as well, so part of it's a matter of pride. Nobody wants to fail.

BUTCH BERNHARDT: We went from a record demand to one of the lowest demands since World War II.

WILSON: Butch Bernhardt is with the Western Wood Products Association, an industry group. He says there were two million housing starts in 2005. But that plummeted to about 600,000 last year.

BERNHARDT: The housing crisis has created the worst downturn in the history of the lumber industry. Housing has typically led the U.S. economy out of recessions.

WILSON: Linda Sanchez heads up the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce.

LINDA SANCHEZ: We look at those monies coming back into our community. They're shopping with our local merchants, you know, they buy their groceries, their fuel, everything. Their taxes come to our city. And that's what helps Delta thrive.

SORENSON: Unidentified Man: Not bad today.

WILSON: Back at the mill, Soreson walks by the stacks of lumber marked with his company's logo. It's clear he's proud that through a lot of hard work, he's been able to keep his company going.

SORENSON: I think those of us who have survived will have a foothold for the markets coming.

WILSON: For NPR News, I'm Conrad Wilson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.