Author's Note: The following is the full text of my "For the Record" column edited for the December issue of Wood & Wood Products. As a bonus, I have included links targeted to related articles posted on WoodworkingNetwork.com. As an added bonus, I have included a "No. 5" top story item.
Past years’ predictions that the U.S. housing market would bounce back in the second half of 2011 failed to materialize. A turgid housing market, near record high unemployment and the global financial crisis served as the backdrop of another challenging year for the North American wood products industry.
Challenging yes; boring no. Following are my votes for top wood-related story lines of 2011. See if you agree with any or all of them.
No. 1: Feds Raid Gibson Guitar
Armed agents of the Department of Justice raided Gibson Guitar’s two facilities in Nashville in August and seized pallets of ebony and rosewood lumber, dozens of guitars and electronic files. The Feds alleged that the confiscated wood entered the country in violation of the Lacey Act. Gibson also was busted by federal agents for alleged Lacey Act violations in November 2009.
Harry Juskiewicz, CEO of Gibson, launched a PR campaign writing blogs and appearing on news outlets to declare his company’s innocence, lash out at the government for persecuting his company and blasting the Lacey Act as being “unconstitutional.” As of this writing, the U.S. government had yet to file any charges against Gibson for the 2009 or 2011 raids. But a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives last month to amend the Lacey Act, drawing widespread support from groups involved in the importation of wood and wood products while garnering opposition from groups wary that the Lacey Act would lose its teeth.
Finally, Gibson just introduced a model of guitars using torrefied maple for fretboards in place of the mahogany imported from India being held by the Feds as potential evidence.
No. 2: Cabinet Giants Restructure
The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association released a study indicating that the U.S. cabinetry market is $6.7 billion; impressive but a far cry from the industry’s girth in more recent normal economic times.
As a sign of the times, Masco, the nation’s leading cabinet manufacturer, officially shut down its Mill’s Pride plant in Waverly, OH, sold off the equipment at its $106 million KraftMaid factory in West Jordan, UT, that only operated for about 18 months; and announced layoffs of 175 additional KraftMaid personnel in Ohio. All of this was on top of closing a pair of Merillat cabinet plants last year.
Meanwhile, Fortune Brands chose a tenuous time in Wall Street history to spin off MasterBrand Cabinet, the natiion's second largest cabinet manufacturer, as part of a new entity on the NYSE known as Fortune Brands Home & Security. The new unit, with annual sales of $3.2 billion, includes Aristokraft, Schrock, Omega, Decora and other cabinet brands, plus Simonton Windows, Therma-Tru doors and other home-centric companies of Fortune Brands.
No. 3: IKEA U.S. Plant Unionizes
Who said unions are dying? Employees of IKEA’s Swedwood manufacturing plant in Danville, VA, voted to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), ending a saga that brought bad national press on the Swedish-based company’s alleged unfair treatment of workers. A few weeks later, employees of EBI LLC, a Danville-based supplier of upholstered furniture to IKEA, voted against unionizing.
Finally, Scanwood, a manufacturer of RTA wood chests for IKEA based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, went belly up. The company’s equipment was put up for auction and its 220,000-square-foot plant was sold to a company that intends to turn it into a sound stage for movie and TV productions.
No. 4: Jeld-Wen Under New Ownership
Toronto-based ONEX Corp. became the majority owner of Klamath Falls, OR-based Jeld-Wen, North America’s largest maker of doors and windows. The deal purported at $871 million came amid reports that Jeld-Wen was at risk of seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The balance of the company continues to be owned by the trust of the late founder Richard Wendt, members of the Wendt family, Jeld-Wen employees and other existing shareholders.
What were your top stories for 2011?
No. 5: CPSC Makes Plans for Controversial Table Saw Safety Rule
To say this issue is heated and controversial would be a bit of an understatement. For many years, Stephen Gass inventor and owner of SawStop has petitioned the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to require table saw manufacturers to incorporate "flesh detecting" safety devices in their products. Noting that more than 67,000 saw operators are injured each year because of coming in contact with a blade, the CPSC voted unanimously October 11 to issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
The Power Tool Institute (PTI), which includes Black & Decker, Delta, DeWalt, Ryobi and other saw makers among its members, has argued that if the CPSC requires flesh detecting technology, that it would not only significantly increase the cost of saws, but create a monopoly for SawStop because the company holds dozens of patents. Recently, the PTI launched a campaign encouraging that woodworkers and consumers submit comments to the CPSC "opposing the mandatory rule for table saws."
Earlier this week, the CPSC voted to extend the December 12 comment period deadline by 60 days.
I'm all ears as to what stories, trends, etc. are on your mind.
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.