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Greenfield

Weathering the storms

New England Forest Products: Celebrating 20 years in business in Greenfield

  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • New England Forest Products celebrates 20 years in business<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Twenty years ago, Dave Buxton — a licensed forester who had been a county forester for the UNH Cooperative Extension Service before going into the sawmill industry — went into business for himself, leasing the former Maurice Smith sawmill in Greenfield. The mill had been producing mostly white pine lumber, but Buxton quickly began to focus his new business, called New England Forest Products, on milling hardwoods. As a forester, he had grown committed to encouraging sustainable forestry practices, and he wanted to find a way to work with landowners and loggers to ensure that local woodlots were effectively managed.

“At the time, there were 16 hardwood mills in New Hampshire,” Buxton said last week, at the company’s yard on Sawmill Road. “Now there are only three of us left. For a local landowner, someone with 25 to 30 acres, it’s important to have a mill. The trees don’t have value without a place to sell them.”

That commitment to sustainability — and a need to develop new markets as the North American construction market slumped — have led Buxton and his wife, Deb, to broaden the company’s offerings.

“The sawmill was our main activity until about four years ago,” Buxton said. “Now we have three dry kilns, which opened up a whole new market. The bulk of our business is still wholesale, but we sell retail as well and we’re expanding into custom flooring.”

Buxton said the retail business draws customers who appreciate the variety of hardwood products available.

“People come into the retail and it’s like a candy shop,” he said. “They love to smell the wood.”

The company’s business is still primarily wholesale lumber, about 80 percent locally harvested red oak and the rest mixed hardwoods. When Buxton started, almost all of the wood stayed in the United States or was shipped to Canada. But now, he finds himself shipping all over the world, with much of his wholesale lumber going to China and the Middle East, where the construction industry has been strong.

A company motto is “Forest to Floor,” and Buxton said very little is wasted from every log that’s delivered to the mill. The company sells bark mulch, cordwood, even sawdust that is made into wood pellets.

Buxton also offers forest management services, meeting with landowners to evaluate their property.

“That’s Dave’s favorite part of the job, getting out in the woods,” Deb Buxton said.

“I’ve been working with some owners since the mid-’70s,” Buxton noted. “We develop a plan, talk about what should be done to promote growth. We can do selective cutting, to thin out the forest. You can increase the growth rate of a tree by 50 percent if you manage it. You want to maximize your investment.”

Four years after the company started, the sawmill was leveled by a tornado.

“It was July 3, 1997,” Buxton recalled. “The mill had shut for the Fourth of July and everyone had gone home for the weekend. C.J. Hall, our mill manager, was the only one here. He said he saw the sky blacken and fill with sawdust.”

Hall went into a cinder block break room and climbed under a table with his two dogs. When he came out, uninjured, he found that the entire mill building had collapsed.”

“It happened on a Thursday, and by Monday we had timbers up and were rebuilding,” Buxton said. “Our neighbors across the street at American Steel had been hit, too, but they were a great help getting us back up. We were closed for six weeks, but we leased two mills that had been shut down and split our crew up. There wasn’t a lot of profit, but we were able to keep our customer base and keep our crew together.”

That willingness to persevere has helped the Buxtons weather the recent economic downturn. Buxton said sales dropped by almost half in 2008 and the mill shut down for six weeks. That prompted the expansion into retail markets. The couple kicked in $75,000 to obtain a $75,000 matching grant from the Northeast Trade Adjustment Assistance Center.

“It was to help companies adversely affected by imports,” Deb Buxton said. “We were able to hire a person to reconstruct the dry kilns that we bought, and to hire a marketing person and start to expand the custom flooring. It’s a great program that people don’t know much about.”

The mill is now operating 40 hours a week, with 17 workers on site.

“The market’s almost totally different as we come out of the recession,” Buxton said. “The past six months have been very positive. Sales have increased substantially.”

So the Buxtons are encouraged as they celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary.

“We had a cookout for our crew a while back,” Deb said. “Next week, we’ll have a lobster bake.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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