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Louisiana Pacific celebrates 25 years in the Valley

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A lot has changed in the Valley in the last 25 years and one of the most notable changes is the presence of Louisiana Pacific Swan Valley (LP) in the community.
When the concept was first discussed, there was no doubt the addition of such a large facility would be a huge asset to the area. And, for a forest-based production company, there were few better places for LP to set up operations than here, where they were surrounded by more than adequate forestry resources.
“It was a combination of LP looking to expand operations and some very active people on the Swan River Town Council and the local economic development group encouraging the company to consider Swan Valley,” said LP President Kevin Betcher. “I wasn’t around for those original meetings and government hearings, but I do know that there were key individuals locally who truly made this happen, like Jud Scales, Harry Showdra, Stan Anderson, Kelly Neely and many others that were active in attracting LP to the Swan Valley. LP said yes, and the rest is history. The first oriented strand board (OSB) was produced at LP Swan Valley on Jan. 21, 1996, around 1 a.m., after an intense period of dedication by many mill employees.”
The core values for the company focus on safety foremost and that is still the same today, but over time, some of the priorities changed to reflect the needs of the industry.
“Our number one core value is safety, followed closely by environmental and quality compliance,” said Betcher. “It’s important to establish core values because priorities are always changing, but core values stay the same.”
Twenty-five years after starting production LP remains a vital employer for the Valley, continuing to grow and provide new opportunities. The company has also had tremendous success in retaining employees, with many working at the mill for more than a decade.
“When the mill first opened, we employed approximately 150 employees, including our forestry operations,” said Betcher. “We’ve since grown, employing approximately 215 people today. This number will increase to about 235 employees with the addition of new capital projects that will expand our product offerings and support our corporate growth strategy.
“We still have about 16 people who were here when the first board was produced and another 25, on top of that, who joined us sometime during the first year of production. Our average employee tenure at the mill is 10 years, which is two times higher than the industry average.”
Over the years, LP has transformed its operations from oriented strand board (OSB) into LP's world-renowned SmartSide Trim and Siding. The expansion has proven to be very successful in the company’s growth and operations.
“When we first opened, we produced only OSB, which included sheathing and flooring products,” said Betcher. “In 2015, we spent over $100 million to convert the plant from an OSB to a siding facility. We now produce an exterior home siding product but have retained the ability to produce OSB with some equipment conversions that take about 12 hours to do. However, we haven’t made a significant amount of OSB in the past few years. Since LP’s siding business has seen significant growth, this venture requires all the siding our mill can produce to keep up with customer demand.”
During its 25 years in operation, LP Swan Valley has had many notable highlights to be proud of.
“We’ve twice been recognized as the safest plant in the LP corporation for a combined period of seven years, which means 25 percent of the time we’ve existed as a facility we’ve led all plants in safety performance," said Betcher. “Another highlight was being selected by the corporate team for our 2015 conversion to siding, as it solidified the next generation of stability for the facility. Many local people thought LP would be here and gone after 20 years. It’s safe to say, we will be around for many generations with the stable workforce and investments LP has made at Swan Valley.
"As far as overall efficiency and cost of operation, the plant has consistently performed in the top quartile for all LP facilities, which speaks to the quality of the people who work for us."
In addition to all of the achievements at the mill itself, Betcher noted that, after 25 years of operation, LP Swan Valley has also demonstrated that sustainable forest management is achievable with the proper approach and commitment.
“Further, from an environmental perspective at the plant, we’ve had no enforcement actions imposed in our history,” he said. "Both of these items speak to our commitment to being a good corporate and community citizen.”
LP has a promising future and had begun another expansion to produce an additional product under the company name. Through it all, the community has supported LP and its presence in the Valley, which has attributed to the company’s success overall.
“We’re currently in the early construction stages of a $24 million capital project which includes adding on to our existing footprint and bringing in equipment from Spain,” said Betcher. “That will give us the capability to produce LP SmartSide Shakes, which is essentially a siding product that is 12 inches x 48 inches and machined to replicate the look of shakes, but is more durable and easier to install. This new line may add up to 25 new jobs once sales expectations are realized over the next four to five years. Beyond this project, we have another $40 million targeted for other capital projects and improvements over the next four years.
“LP has become a big success for the local region and we very much appreciate the support we receive from the residents of the surrounding areas.”