Betting on housing rebound, Eugene firm re-opens mill

ROGUE RIVER, Ore. (AP) — The reopening of a plywood plant in Southern Oregon has given the area around Rogue River an early present: 108 people are back at work, and there are hopes that number could rise.

"Everybody's thrilled to death," said Sandy Henderson, a 75-year-old resident of nearby Wimer. "There are people who'd been laid off who are back to work. It couldn't happen at a better time of the year."

In reopening the mill that was closed in early 2009 and purchased earlier this year for $3.6 million, the Murphy Co. of Eugene is betting on a rebound in housing construction next year, the Medford Mail-Tribune reports.

National housing starts are in the 550,000 range so far this year, up by about 3.9 percent from a year ago, said owner John Murphy. Next year industry experts expect housing starts could hit 745,000 units.

"They're counting on a slow, gradual climb out of this housing hole," he said.

The plant is operating with one shift, and the company hopes to increase production to three shifts with about 200 employees, Murphy said.

"It's exciting to be in these rural communities when they need it so bad," he said.

The mill will complement Murphy's other operations. A hardwood plywood plant in Eugene and a structural beam and header plant in Sutherlin use some of the best raw materials. The remaining materials and lower-grade veneers can now be sent to Rogue River.

The plant along interstate 5 between Grants Pass and Medford is on 51 acres, and the plant is 164,000 square feet.

Milwaukee-based Panel Products shut it down in early 2009, one of a number of blows to timber products in the Rogue Valley.

As the plant ramped up for its first week of production, Kimberly Clifford was loading veneers into a dryer.

She used to work at a mill in White City before it closed and said she was shocked to get a call for a job with Murphy.

"They really must have a lot of faith to do this at this time," she said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.