Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of monthly stories The Tribune is running spotlighting the local manufacturers in the area.
Weyerhaeuser, one of the world’s largest forest products companies, has a major operation in Elkin and depends on its workforce to deliver results, said a top Weyerhaeuser official.
The mill produces OSB (Oriented Strandboard) as part of Weyerhaeuser’s Wood Products OSB business segment.
The Elkin mill is a valuable member of the Weyerhaeuser family. “We have an extremely dedicated team that focuses on safely and reliably running our mill well every shift with a goal of Safely Making Money, ” said Debbie Tadlock, mill manager for the Weyerhaeuser Elkin plant.
On Feb. 1, Weyerhaeuser provided an inside look at its mill operation to the Surry County Board of Commissioners, along with state Sen. Shirley Randleman, state Rep. Sarah Stevens, the Yadkin Valley Sewer Authority, the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, and The Tribune.
Weyerhaeuser, started out as Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. in 1900 when Frederick Weyerhaeuser and 15 partners bought 900,000 acres of timberland. The company now manages more than 6 million acres, mainly in the United States, and manages another 14 million acres under long-term licenses in Canada.
Weyerhaeuser is one of the largest building products distributors in the U.S., offering products through more than 300 suppliers. Weyerhaeuser manages its timberland on a sustainable basis in compliance with internationally recognized forestry standards, and all of the company’s structural wood products are certified to the SFI® standard.
The company’s wood products business sells leading structural frame materials and OSB products, software, and technical support for residential, multi-family, and light commercial construction. The products are sold under the Weyerhaeuser and Trus Joist® brand names.
At the end of 2012, the company employed approximately 13,200 employees worldwide and generated more than $7.1 billion in sales.
“The Elkin mill started up in 1986 with a non traditional team based work system,” said Tadlock. “Non traditional team based system works best for us at the mill. It allows the company to gain a competitive edge on a variety of fronts. The work system is designed to capitalize on the talents of all the individuals in the organization, regardless of where they stand in the hierarchy.”
According to Weyerhaeuser, the Elkin mill has 134 team members, 76 who handle operations, 28 in the maintenance field, and 30 are salaried positions. Most work under the 231,616 square-foot facility that sits on over 380 acres of property. The mill operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The average wage for operations team members is $18.31 an hour and maintenance team members is $23.29 an hour.
“Forty employees have been with Weyerhaeuser since the mill start up in 1986,” said Tadlock. “We take great pride in retaining our employees.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership. “Organizations with a progressive work concept, such as a team-based employee work system, and strong management have consistently been the most cost effective, productive operations, all leading to growth, sustainability, and a reliable workforce.”
However, 69 employees are above the age of 50, and with a company that has a strong track record on retention, anticipating what your workforce will look like in the next decade is just as important to how it looks today.
“The mill anticipates significant retirements over the next five years and will be replacing 30 eligible positions to maintain the 134 staffing level,” expressed Tadlock. “Most of these retirees will be retiring from Elkin and surrounding communities.”
According to Bob Pearson, technical director for the Elkin plant , working in the mill of this size requires much more than a walk-in applicant. “It takes approximately three to five years to become fully proficient in our manufacturing and maintenance positions. You also have to have knowledge of what we produce.”
Pearson indicated the mill mostly creates flooring that accounts for 63 percent of production; commodity flooring – Edge (green); enhanced flooring - edge gold (gold); sheathing and other products such as rim board, stair tread, and furniture frame round of the rest.
“We’re here to help,” said Surry County Commissioner Larry Philips. “It’s important that we recognize the changing demographics of the mill and help take steps to best prepare a new workforce that can have opportunity in such a wonderful company.”
The mill has spent an average of $3,600,000 in capital over the last 5 years.
“Looks like you’re planning on staying here and that makes me proud,” said Surry County Commissioner Paul Johnson.
“Our mill is currently looking at the investment we need to make at the plant for the future” said Tadlock. “We must continue to invest in our people and our plant property and equipment to assure we stay competitive over the long term. The Weyerhaeuser Elkin mill has been a part of our local community for many years and we want to stay a valuable part of this community in the future. “
All dignitaries were given safety instructions by Monica Lischka, safety manager for Weyerhaeuser, were issues hard hats, safety glasses, earplugs, and bright red safety vests. Weyerhaeuser conducted a tour of the mill dryer, it’s press, and master control room.
“I’m highly impressed,” said Commissioner Philips. “This facility shows us all how to do things right.”
Reach Anthony Gonzalez by calling 835-1513 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org