2018-01-13 / Front Page

Emporium Hardwoods rises from ashes


Last March, fire ravaged Emporium Hardwoods on Rt. 120 in Shippen Township. Office manager Chris McFall shared the positive news in the aftermath of that tragedy this week with the Emporium Rotary Club. Last March, fire ravaged Emporium Hardwoods on Rt. 120 in Shippen Township. Office manager Chris McFall shared the positive news in the aftermath of that tragedy this week with the Emporium Rotary Club. In an area plagued by unemployment and outmigration of its residents, the much-anticipated rebuild of Emporium Hardwoods signals a hopeful new beginning for its employees and Cameron County.

Office manager Chris McFall shared details on the progress of rebuilding efforts at the facility with Emporium Rotary Club members this week.

Ten months ago, Cameron County’s third-largest employer was struck by a fire that caused an estimated $7 million damage to a processing building known as the “green mill,” specialized equipment and other property.

The decision by owner Ted Rossi to rebuild after the March 11 blaze came as a big relief to area residents. The mill employed about 100 people. Dozens of other jobs were tied indirectly to Emporium Hardwoods, including truck drivers, logging crews and contracted workers.

“It was not an easy decision,” McFall said. “Mr. Rossi could have brought in green lumber and turned us into a consignment yard, but he understood that we have more than 100 families dependent on us.”

In an effort to keep most workers employed last spring and summer, and to keep customers, Hardwoods temporarily moved people to other departments and negotiated to have other facilities cut their lumber. All laid-off employees have since been brought back to work. In addition to construction of the new mill, much of the damaged equipment has been replaced. A pair of seven and one-half ton cranes installed to move equipment and tools will remain once construction is complete.

The old offices will be torn down to make room for additional parking. The log yard, which previously sat on muddy terrain adjacent to the mill, has been cemented. A new dry storage structure will also be built. Plywood being used in the construction process is fire-resistant.

Once completed, the mill will be able to handle 30 to 35 loads of logs per day, and produce more than 150,000 board feet daily. A target date of June 17 has been set for grand opening of the two-story, 72,000-square-foot complex.

“This will be the largest mill east of the Mississippi once we’re done, and the only plant in the East that’s fully automated,” McFall pointed out. “It really is a cutting-edge facility and everything is computer-driven.”

Despite the hardships of the past year -- the company’s general manager died shortly after the blaze and a building partially collapsed last summer – Emporium Hardwoods still managed to generate more than $28 million in sales in 2017.

“It’s been a real challenge, and there’s still work to do, but it’s all starting to come together,” McFall said. “We’ve been able to make it work, thanks to the firefighters who battled the blaze and the community members who gave us their support.”

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