In early 2002, the upstate New York corporate owner of a formerly family-owned sawmill in Richwood, West Virginia announced it was closing the mill due to insufficient profitability caused by the economic downturn of 2001. Long-time employees Bill and Sharon Glasscock had other ideas; they knew the mill, which sells raw logs and green lumber, could operate profitably without the burden of corporate overhead. They were ready to invest their savings, but needed additional financing to purchase the mill and invest in a horizontal resaw that would increase profitability.
Their bank BB&T, the West Virginia Economic Development Authority and a local investor had confidence in the Glasscocks, but needed to know a re-start could really succeed financially. They turned to NCIFund for help, and we obtained a USDA Rural Development grant to hire an accountant to install a new accounting system and provide training for 6 months, so the mill could prepare financial statements useful for managing the mill. “When you’re first starting out, it’s so helpful to have someone see your vision, someone you can trust,” recalls Sharon.
With a $1 million financing package in place – including $50,000 from NCIFund for working capital to buy log inventory -- the old Mullican mill was reborn as Laurel Creek Hardwood
s, saving 22 jobs in Richwood, population 2,400.
Sixteen years later, the mill is still going strong, with higher sales. Laurel Creek now employs 25, despite the Great Recession of 2007, which led to the loss of 4,400 jobs in WV’s forest products industry. “Typically when you add efficiency, it takes away jobs,” says Sharon, who still runs the company (Bill has retired). “But because we’ve increased production, we’ve been able to add jobs.” Due to higher transportation costs, the mill sells more products to West Virginia hardwood lumber companies than before, though it exports hardwood logs overseas.
Investments in equipment (the resaw, a new carriage, and a cant catcher) have been essential to its success, but Sharon is clear that the Laurel Creek “family, the guys, are the key to it all. Cold weather, hot weather, they still produce a great product.” She’s especially proud that four of their original workers have been able to retire, and that the company’s now able to offer a matching 401(k) retirement plan.
What lies ahead? More investments for efficiency and safety, says Sharon. “We have good workers here to fill the jobs. The mill is a community asset. It needs to stay a family business.”