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LaSalle Lumber open, adds second shift

URANIA — What’s better than promising 115 new jobs in rural Louisiana? Delivering more. That’s what is happening at the LaSalle Lumber Co., a joint venture of Hunt Forest Products and Canada-based Tolko Industries Ltd.

At the sawmill’s grand opening in May, log trucks poured in one after another as Louisiana pine was unloaded to be made into plank lumber for construction.

“This is a great day for central Louisiana, for the state’s timber industry, and for LaSalle Lumber Co., a joint venture between a historic Louisiana forest products company and a major Canadian forestry partner making its first venture into the United States,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at the event. “It is also particularly fitting and historic that we are in Urania, Louisiana, today, where the pioneering Henry Hardtner first began the Louisiana sustainable forestry practice more than 100 years ago.”

Trott Hunt, co-owner and chairman of the board of directors for Hunt Forest Products, said with more than a century of family history in Louisiana forestry, the company is thrilled to bring a state-of-the-art saw mill to Central Louisiana.

“This doesn’t look like sawmills you’ve seen before,” Hunt told the crowd, touting the first new lumber mill to be built from the ground up in Louisiana in almost a quarter century. “There is a massive inventory of southern yellow pine in this region and we are proud to provide an outlet for local timber suppliers.”

Tolko has been a good match, Hunt said. The company based in Vernon, British Columbia, has 17 facilities in their home country and is family-owned like Hunt Forest Products.

“They’re great people,” he said. “We look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with them.”

Brad Thorlakson, president and CEO of Tolko, likewise had kind words for his American counterparts.

“The Hunt family shares our values and commitment to safety, and we’re excited about what we can accomplish together,” said Thorlakson, the third generation of his family to lead the company.

Both companies own 50 percent shares in LaSalle Lumber, which takes up about 125 acres of a sawmill site once owned by Louisiana Pacific. Next to the mill that anticipates taking in 850,000 tons of wood each year to produce about 200 million board feet of lumber is the new LaSalle BioEnergy, originally built on the adjoining 160 acres in 2015. Drax Biomass purchased the facility out of bankruptcy in 2017. The facility now employs about 70 workers.

Its significance is being able to use all of the residuals from LaSalle Lumber. That amounts to about 60,000 tons of bark and 300 million tons of chips and dust. Estimates indicate those residuals could account for about 30 percent of what the plant needs for its production.

At the May opening ceremony, Hunt said one shift working four, 10-hour days is operating the facility and was training a second crew that also will work four, 10-hour shifts. In all, he expects about 125 employees when at full operation. The governor said tax breaks from the state help the company, but for Louisiana it’s an investment. Such investments has the state ranking first in return on the dollar for its economic development efforts.

Douglas George, acting consul general to the South Central United States for Canada, also attended the event. He said the partnership of Tolko and Hunt Forest Products is a great story.

“This is why Canada supports free trade,” said George. “That’s what’s happening here.”

George said companies are sharing expertise and the countries are working together for the economic futures of both.

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