Panel Processing's Smith Lauded for Wood Market Growth

By Karen Koenig | Posted: 11/29/2012 12:52PM


Eric Smith, Panel Processing Inc., W&WP Market LeaderEric Smith Eric Smith’s career path into the woodworking industry has been anything but by the numbers. After receiving his business degree in accounting, this true-blue Michigan man pursued a career as a public accounting auditor.

“Auditors spend lots of time in different businesses and different industries,” Smith says. “I ended up with several clients in Northern Michigan that were involved in the wood industry at several levels.

“I believe the broad exposure in many industries and many companies was a big part of my success.”

And successful it has been for Smith, who has been named a 2012 Wood Industry Market Leader by Wood & Wood Products magazine.

Although he did not originally envision a career path in the panel processing industry — and in fact once owned and operated a specialty sporting goods store — under his leadership as CEO and president, the Alpena, MI-based Panel Processing Inc. has grown to be the largest panel fabricator in the nation.

Panel Processing was founded in 1971 as a supplier of pegboard to the store fixture industry. With Smith at the helm, it has grown significantly in size and diversity, including acquisitions of Alabama Inter-Forest in 2004, Holland Panel Products in 2005, and Modular Wood Systems just last month.

“The geographic diversification of our company is a big part of our overall success,” Smith says. “My goal is to develop an additional location in the Northeast to better serve that market and expand our product offerings in all of our existing locations.”

With manufacturing capabilities including custom coating, printing and CNC machining of a wide variety of substrates, Panel Processing and its subsidiaries serve a variety of industries including: retail fixture, P.O.P. display, packaging, furniture, toy and game, digital print signage and cabinets. And as Panel Processing moves forward, its main challenge continues to be the economy, specifically “the slow pace of recovery in the housing industry and the significant reduction in retail development,” Smith says.

“We are responding to this with our traditional approach: expand our product offerings, invest in our capabilities and continue to penetrate new industries.”

Outside of work, Smith enjoys spending time outdoors at his farm, especially during the calving season. “I do some of my best thinking driving a tractor around my farm,” he adds.

 Quick Glimpse

Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration/Accounting, University of Michigan
Years at the company: 22
Years in the industry: 22
Word that best describes you: Persistent
The person you have tried to emulate in business and why: I have met many great business people in my life and read numerous stories about others. Each person has strengths and weaknesses. My all-time great business person is John D. Rockefeller.

Read more about the 2012 Wood Industry Market Leaders

Wood Industry 2012 Market Leaders - Intro

Bill Barton, President & CEO of California Closets

John Bassett, Chairman of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co.

Robert Gronlund, Chairman & CEO of Wood-Mode Inc.

Edmund 'Bud' Klipa, GM/Wood Division, Steelcase Inc.

Matt Lundahl, COO of Meyer & Lundahl

Christine Marvin, Director of Marketing, Marvin Windows and Doors

Eric Smith, President & CEO of Panel Processing Inc.

Bob Timberlake, Chairman of Bob Timberlake Inc.


About the Author

Karen M. Koenig

Karen M. Koenig has more than 25 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As Editor-in-Chief of Woodworking Network magazine (formerly Wood & Wood Products), Karen’s primary responsibilities include spearheading the writing, editing and coordinating of the editorial content of the publication, along with the Red Book resource guide and the Red Book online source and supply directory ( She is also a frequent contributor to other Woodworking Network online and print media. She can be reached at or Google+.

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