In 2013 the woodworking industry saw marked gains overall with continued improvement in the housing market, a leading indicator of the health of the U.S. wood products industry.

New home construction was on pace to eclipse 900,000 units for the year, well below the 1.5 million units typically equated with a solid housing market but a substantial increase over the 789,000 starts recorded in 2012.

The National Home Builders Association announced that builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes was positive for the sixth consecutive month as; more builders viewed market conditions as good than poor.

Home remodeling also made strong gains in 2013, according to the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. “For the near term, homeowner spending on improvements is expected to see its strongest growth since the height of the housing boom,” said Kermit Baker, director of the center, in October. “Existing home sales are still growing at a double-digit pace, and rising house prices are helping homeowners rebuild equity lost during the housing crash.”

While the overall economic climate for the wood products industry was better, the year was not without its trials and tribulations. In the same year that Ashley Furniture broke ground on phase 2 of its $80 million furniture manufacturing and distribution compound in Advance, NC, Cardell Cabinetry went out of business and Furniture Brands International was sold after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Meanwhile, a bitter antidumping battle broke out between U.S. manufacturers of hardwood plywood and companies that import or use hardwood plywood made in China. The importers won.

Lumber Liquidators became the second major U.S. corporation to be cited for Lacey Act Amendment violations following a raid on its headquarters orchestrated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Lumber Liquidators sold hardwood flooring that was allegedly illegally sourced from a Russian forest.

Following are the top news reports and articles posted on throughout the year.

Wood Plant Closings
Cardell Cabinetry’s closing drew more than 13,000 page views, a record — so far. Other U.S. wood plant closings of note during 2013 included the following:

Masco Cabinetry announced in September that it would close its 37-year-old Merillat manufacturing facility in Jackson, OH, effecting approximately 200 employees.

Lincolnton Furniture, much ballyhooed as a shining example of “Made in America,” closed down suddenly on Jan. 3, a year after owner Bruce Cochrane was an invited guest of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.

Linwood Furniture shut down its 800,000-square-foot factory in Lexington, NC, and sold off its assets including woodworking machinery valued at $2 million.

Crawford Furniture Manufacturing of Jamestown, NY, permanently closed its doors after failing in its attempt to reorganize under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company was founded in 1883.

Key City closed its upholstered furniture plant in Wilkesboro, NC, leaving 97 workers unemployed and ending 87 years of business.

Wood Plant Openings
Ashley Furniture broke ground on phase 2 of its $80 million furniture manufacturing and distribution complex in Advance, NC. When fully developed it will reportedly be the largest furniture manufacturing and distribution center in the world.

Zeyuan Flooring International plans to open its first U.S. manufacturing facility, a 40,000-square-foot plant in Danville, VA, which is expected to create 100 jobs over three years.

Menck, a German-based manufacturer of windows, will spend $20 million to open a plant in Chicopee, MA. The plant and its 75 jobs were originally headed to Jay, VT, but a conflict over incentives based on a job creation formula caused the company to relocate to Massachusetts instead.

Wayzata Home Products of Minnetonka, MN, announced plans to invest $12.5 million to construct a new cabinet manufacturing plant and warehouse in Connersville, IN. The new plant is expected to create more than 300 jobs by 2018.

Bernhardt Furniture reopened its upholstered furniture plant in Shelby, NC. The plant had been closed since 2009.

Pillar Machine of Salt Lake City, UT, acquired the bank-foreclosed assets of Accu-Systems, a manufacturer of woodworking machinery. Pillar is solely owned by Jeff Hatch, son of Mel Hatch, founder of Accu-Systems.

Merger Mania
Fortune Brands Home & Security Inc., parent of MasterBrand Cabinets of Jasper, IN, acquired WoodCrafters Home Products, a Texas-based manufacturer of bathroom vanities and vanity sinks, with annual sales of $230 million, for $300 million.

New York-based Tenex Capital Management, parent of NAP Gladu, acquired JET Powermatic and Wilton Tools from Walter Meier AG of Switzerland in October. Tenex also increased its industrial woodworking tool holdings by purchasing BC Saw and Tools of Toronto.

3D software firm Autodesk Inc. agreed to acquire Delcam Plc, for $276 million. Delcam’s software products for woodworking include ArtCAM and PowerMILL.

Steinway Musical Instruments did an about-face in terminating an offer made by Kohlberg to accept a more attractive offer from Paulson valued at $512 million.

Georgia-Pacific acquired the Temple-Inland Building Products assets from International Paper Co. in June for $710 million in cash. The transaction include five solid wood plants, four particleboard mills, an MDF mill, a fiberboard plant and four gypsum wall plants.

Furniture maker and importer Chromcraft Revington Inc. of West Lafayette, IN, was acquired by Sport-Haley Holdings Inc., an apparel firm based in Denver. Chromcraft Revington voluntarily delisted from the New York Stock Exchange earlier in the year.

Tru-Wood Cabinet Co., a manufacturer of wood cabinets, closets and garage systems based in Ashland, AL, was acquired by United Cabinet Holdings (UHC).

Patrick Industries of Warsaw, IN, acquired John H. McDonald Co. Inc., a furniture supplier to the RV industry based in Goshen, IN, doing business under the Westside Furniture name in September.

Norcraft Companies Inc. of Eagan, MN, a manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, launched an initial public offering in November in a bid to raise up to $100 million from sales of its common stock on the New York Stock Exchange. The company pledged that part of the proceeds would fund planned capital expenditures and research and development.

Boise Cascade Corp. of Boise, ID, opened the year by launching an IPO. Some of the $250 million raised was used to acquire a pair of Carolina plywood plants from Wood Resources.

Lumber Liquidators Raided
Lumber Liquidators is the wood product industry’s new poster child for Lacey Act violations, replacing Gibson Guitar.

Like Gibson two years before, federal agents raided Lumber Liquidator’s headquarters in Toano, VA, in October. The agents executed a warrant to search for potential incriminating evidence that could substantiate Lumber Liquidators’ alleged import of hardwood flooring made from illegally harvested woods.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency said it found that “Lumber Liquidators has imported millions of square feet of solid oak flooring from a manufacturer that freely describes its own illegal logging practices and that buys wood from suppliers that are under scrutiny by Russian authorities for illegal logging in the most threatened temperate forest in the world.”

Lumber Liquidators issued a statement denying that the company had knowingly imported product made from illegal wood and that it has a team of 60 professionals charged with monitoring its flooring sources around the globe to ensure compliance.

Furniture Brands Bankrupt, Sold
KPS Capital Partners acquired St. Louis-based Furniture Brands, parent of Thomasville, Broyhill, Drexel Heritage, Henredon, Lane, Hickory Chairs, Maitland-Smith and other furnishings labels. Furniture Brands filed for Chapter 11 in September, after being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. On Nov. 25, KPS changed the name to Heritage Home Group.

LEED: For & Against
The U.S. Green Building Council celebrated the official launch of LEED v4 at Greenbuild last month in Philadelphia. LEED – Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design – has garnered strong support among the architect and design community. In addition many federal, state and local governments and agencies have embraced LEED for new construction and renovation of public buildings.

The LEED rating system for wood, including its preference for FSC-certified wood, has been an ongoing source of controversy. Last month, Ohio followed the lead of North Carolina, Oklahoma and several other states by introducing legislation to no longer require LEED certification for public projects.

At NeoCon in Chicago, the Business & Furniture Manufacturers Association announced that office furniture and other products certified by the BIFMA level program could qualify for LEED points under the USGBC’s Pilot Credit 80 program.

EPA Formaldehyde Rule: ‘Jobs Killer’
The U.S. wood products industry has come to embrace and comply with the composite wood panel formaldehyde emissions rule created by the California Air Resources Board in 2008 and believes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should make it the law of the land.

But much to the consternation of the Composite Panel Association, Hardwood Plywood & Veneer Association and other groups, EPA has proposed that its national regulation go further by including laminated products and banning adhesives containing urea formaldehyde. Tom Julia, president of CPA, called the EPA’s proposed regulations a “jobs killer.”

WoodLINKS USA merged with the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America (WCA) in September.

The organizational merger enables WoodLINKS USA members to become education members of WCA. The WCA has developed industry-recognized skill standards and a certification system for the wood industry. This agreement also furthers the partnership created in 2010 between these two organizations.

Cloud Computing at Canary
Business IT is floating to the clouds, cloud computing that is. Canary Closets & Cabinetry of Union, NJ, a featured plant tour of the 2013 Cabinets & Closets Conference & Expo, has implemented a cloud-based computer software networking system from Allmoxy to manage its entire business operation. It is a woodworking enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that manages e-commerce, business accounting, bids and order entry, exporting files from customer input, and converting them to files that drive production machinery.

Wood Science to MLB’s Rescue
Shatter rates of wood baseball bats dropped more than 50 percent as a result of research conducted by the U.S. Forest Service and funded by Major League Baseball (MLB). Research by MLB and the USDA into the high numbers of broken and shattered bat incidents, and their increasing severity, began in 2008. Wood scientists at the Forest Products Lab in Madison, WI, determined the straighter the grain, the less likelihood of breakage and that low-density maple bats were more prone to shattering than higher-density maple bats. The researchers also provided recommendations for improved bat geometry, including the taper and handle thickness, and drying methods.

Battling Bad Bugs
The emerald ash borer and mountain pine beetle are just two of the pesky but deadly insects that are preying on North American forests, including urban forests. According to the USDA Forest Service, the emerald ash borer purportedly has killed upwards of 200 million trees since 2002 in 22 states and Canada. The Forest Service says pine and spruce bark beetles have impacted more than 42 million acres of forests since 1996.

Researchers are seeking ways to halt the spread of these insect scourges, wary of what might happen if the bugs are left unchecked to gorge on trees. Worst case scenario reminder: the blight that nearly wiped out the American chestnut, killing some 4 billion trees during the first four decades of the 20th century.

Research holds hope. The American Chestnut Foundation is working with various research bodies, including Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center (HTIRC) at Purdue University, to find a solution to reverse the loss of chestnut trees, a commercially prized hardwood.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Agriculture Department last month awarded nearly $10 million to a project led by Colorado State University to explore the potential of converting trees killed by mountain pine and spruce pine beetle into high-octane gasoline.

3D Printing Rebuilds Wood Career
When master carpenter Richard Van As of Johannesburg, South Africa, lost four fingers on his right hand in a table saw accident in 2011, he said he was immediately determined to find a way to regain use of his hand to continue pursuing his livelihood.

Van As turned to 3D digital printing technology to help build a prosthetic device that would provide the needed flexibility and agility to mimic the hand that was severely injured in the blink of an eye. Working with designer Ivan Owen based in Washington state, Van As developed a mechanical hand prop that has benefited children around the world.

Fallen Home Star
Food Network dropped personality Paula Deen in June after she admitted she used racial slurs. But Universal Furniture of High Point, NC, opted to stick with a contrite Deen, who took to Youtube to release a video apology. Universal Furniture licenses the Paula Deen Home collection.

Conestoga Contests Obamacare
Conestoga Wood Specialties of East Earl, PA, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a requirement of the Affordable Care Act that businesses provide insurance that includes coverage for birth control services. Anthony Hahn, president and CEO, said for the Hahn family — second generation owners of the business — the requirement violates Mennonite religious convictions.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case in support of the federal rule urging the court to require Conestoga to comply with the requirement to provide employees with health insurance coverage for all preventive services, including contraceptive care.

Immigration Audit Costs Jobs
A total 245 workers were dismissed or left voluntarily at Jackson Furniture of Cleveland, TN, following an audit by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The audit impacted more than 25% of the company’s workforce.

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