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Biomass plant an opportunity for local timber company

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The Columbia Timber Company is one of five companies selected to provide biomass for the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center.  The timber company harvests timber, provides forest certification, works with landowners to maintain forests and other related activities.  Shown here are deck hands working at the logging ramp.

GAINESVILLE – When the Georgia-Pacific plywood mill in Hawthorne closed last November, about 400 jobs were eliminated and a void was left in the local timber industry.

The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center may provide a chance for local companies to make up for this loss.

Columbia Timber Company, which has been in operation since 1989, has recently been selected to provide biomass for the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center.  Columbia Timber Company was one of five companies selected to provide biomass for the plant.

Though the new 100-megawatt biomass plant scheduled to go online in 2013 has received criticism for the financial ramifications on local resdients, the financial impact for the local timber industry may fill gaps left by the recession.

Columbia Timber Company owner Jib Davidson said the plant will also affect land owners with timbered land. Davidson said he has been politically neutral in the debate surrounding the plant but sees the economic benefits of the deal.

Although a group of Gainesville residents calling themselves Gainesville Citizens CARE has recently filed a lawsuit against Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, Davidson said he is not too worried.

According to the Florida Forest Service, the state’s forests and the forest product industries have an annual economic impact of $16.5 billion. Columbia Timber Company harvests timber, provides forest certification, works with landowners to maintain forests, and many other related activities.

Columbia Timber Company plays a vital role in the economic chain that brings consumers products. Nail polish, football helmets, bandages and eyeglass frames are some of the products from Florida’s forests.

Davidson and his business partner, Norman McRae, are degreed foresters from the University of Florida.  Davidson also has a Bachelor’s of Science in business with a major in finance and minor in real estate. Eventually, the company expanded to doing environmental services under the name Columbia Environmental Services. It was a natural expansion, as the owners already had the necessary skills to delineate wetlands and working with newly founded environmental regulations, Davidson said.

The Hawthorne plywood plant closing was not the only hit that the company has taken over the years.

In 2006 business started to dry up as the effects of an economic downturn were felt almost overnight. In a four-week period in August, five major projects pulled out.

Davidson remembers wondering, “What’s the deal?”

That’s when the company moved into another facet to their business. This time, the company began to work in real estate as Florida Timberlands.

Who better to find timberland than foresters, Davidson said.

Now, the company has joined with United Country Real Estate and operates under United Country Land and Lifestyle Properties.

The real estate business has gotten the company through when times were tough economically, and he said that now is the time to buy land.

“I haven’t seen prices like these in 20 years,” Davidson said.

With several local saw mills closing and a recession, the deal with the biomass plant gives the company a chance to make up for economic hits throughout the years.

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