Sawmill Plans Rolling Along

Published 7:00 pm Friday, January 14, 2011

Miles of pipe and conduit run beneath the surface. Tons of steelscrape against the sky and block out the sun. Fields of concretepress down on the earth.

Now, the grounds of Rex Lumber Brookhaven look the skeleton ofan industrial beast. In three months, all the parts will cometogether to make a sawmill.

“Over the next 90 days, less than 90 days, is when the crunchcomes in,” said General Manager Doug Boykin. “The equipment willstart coming in, the buildings will be erected and we’ll starthiring people.”

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With a projected start date of April 4, construction crews areworking all day, every day – some all night – to construct the morethan $10 million in new technology that will make the bigger,better Brookhaven sawmill. Heavy equipment has rolled across the145-acre grounds since July 2010, when sparks flew from cuttingtorches to signal the demolition of the previous Columbus LumberCo., a company that operated in Brookhaven for 67 years.

The old mill is being replaced with huge steel buildingsmeasured in the hundreds of yards, and milling equipment the sizeof buildings has been custom-engineered and built onsite. Companyofficials have said Rex Lumber Brookhaven will out-produce itspredecessor by several million board feet of lumber per year.

There is more to come. By the end of its first three years, RexLumber’s investment is expected to top $20 million.

“Between now and April 4, all the new equipment we’re orderingwill be delivered and the other equipment we’re refurbishing willbe put into place,” Boykin said.

Boykin said the company would begin staffing the mill toward theend of February and into March.

Original plans for the mill call for the hiring of more than 100employees. Some former Columbus employees are already with Rex.

“We’ve got to get them in here and get them trained,” Boykinsaid. “We have hired a human resources person, and we’ve got 10pages of names of people to call, many from Columbus LumberCo.”

Boykin said the company would begin advertising job openingswhen it’s ready to hire. The mill has a projected annual salaryoutput of around $4 million.

Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive VicePresident Cliff Brumfield said the restart of the sawmill wouldprovide a boost to the local timber industry, reviving associatedbusinesses like logging companies, trucking companies, constructionretail outlets and landowners who grow the timber.

“Our local economy will see economic benefits from not only thejobs at the mill, but the trickle-down effect it will have forother businesses,” Brumfield said. “The project is a great exampleof how a community can see growth through existing industries.”

The former Columbus Lumber Co. moved to Brookhaven from Columbusin 1943 and remained one of the city’s most reliable industries. Itbegan to incur significant losses in 2008 when the national housingmarket collapsed and caused lumber prices to plummet.

The company attempted several rounds of cost-saving measures tolessen the impact of the recession, but those efforts failed onSept. 24, 2009 when Bank of America foreclosed on the mill andoperations ceased. More than 100 jobs were lost.

Rex Lumber, which is based in the Florida panhandle and operatesseveral mills, purchased the Brookhaven mill on Monday, Nov. 9,2009. Part of the mill was sold to Great Southern Wood Preserving,which opened for business in early 2010 and began selling itsYellaWood lumber.

Since then, local officials have pitched in to help get thesawmill restarted. City and county leaders have granted taxincentives to the company and pitched in a combined $288,000 tohelp secure a grant to improve the mill’s access road. Aldermenalso worked out a deal that would allow the company to use a pairof abandoned wells on the property.