Stage set for Structurlam reopening

The shuttered Structurlam Mass Timber Corp. facility in Conway, idle since a sudden closing in January, could be operating again soon with Mercer International Inc.'s announcement it has acquired the business.

Mercer announced last week that an $81.1 million bid to purchase Structurlam and its assets was approved in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Company officials said Monday they are finalizing the acquisition and could announce a reopening of the Conway plant as soon as next week.

The Canadian timber manufacturer has a track record of buying financially distressed manufacturing plants that have been closed and turning them around.

In a news release, Mercer indicated the Conway factory "will expand Mercer's product offering and enhance its ability to service its growing customer base."

No timetable for resuming production in Conway was available though a company spokesperson said an announcement will be forthcoming. Mercer is awaiting final approval of the acquisition before detailing hiring and production schedules.

"Both companies are committed to transparency but understandably want to have final decisions in place before sharing information publicly," the spokesperson said Monday.

Structurlam's 288,000-square-foot factory in Conway closed in January after Walmart ended an agreement to purchase timber manufactured at the plant. Walmart was essentially the only customer the plant supplied and more than 140 jobs were lost with the closing.

Conway's production of glued laminated timber (glulam) will complement Mercer's cross-laminated timber production in Spokane, Wash. The company said adding Conway will enhance expansion in the North American construction business.

The Conway factory opened in 2021 as a modernized advanced-technology operation with the capacity to produce more than 1 million cubic feet annually.

"The acquisition of the Structurlam assets is consistent with our strategy to expand and diversify our product mix in our solid wood segment and build out our existing mass timber business," said Juan Carlos Bueno, Mercer's president and chief executive officer. "The acquisition will materially increase our existing production capacity and cement our position as a leading producer of mass timber products."

Glulam and cross-laminated timber (CLT) are considered environmentally friendly materials used in construction of major buildings and skyscrapers. Wal-mart is using the material for its new corporate headquarters campus under construction in Bentonville.

In 2020, Mercer purchased the cross-laminated timber plant in Spokane and a year later said it would invest about $50 million to add a second production line, nearly doubling employment. The company said it had rehired about 80% of the workforce when the Washington facility reopened. That plan, too, was purchased out of bankruptcy after it closed.

Information released Monday indicates the Conway plant will have a major role in Mercer's operations going forward. "Our Mercer Mass Timber facility and the Conway facility are two of the most modern mass timber facilities in North America, which we believe will position us well to capitalize on the growing market share of CLT and glulam in the North American construction business," Bueno said.

The Canadian manufacturer also has operations in Canada and Germany with consolidated annual production capacity of 2.3 million tons of pulp, 960 million board feet of lumber, 140,000 cubic meters of cross-laminated timber, 17 million pallets and 150,000 metric tons of wood pellets.

Mercer's acquisition also includes three Structurlam facilities in British Columbia, Canada.

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