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Asian business delegation looks at local wood products

RCEDA entertains Chinese and Korean delegation

By Michael Howell

Last Saturday the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority hosted a delegation of business people representing 18 companies based in China and Korea who are interested in potentially purchasing Montana-made specialty wood products. Some local wood product manufacturers were on hand to showcase their wares and network with members of the delegation.

The delegation, representing manufacturing companies, import companies, lumber wholesale marketers and the China Trade Association, arrived in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho last week to attend the Small Logs Conference, an event sponsored by Forest Business Network, a Missoula company. The event showcases the very best in small-diameter timber utilization, wood-based biofuels, and wood exports.

Working with the Montana World Trade Center, a visit to Missoula and subsequently to the Bitterroot Valley was also arranged. In Missoula the delegation met with College of Forestry & Conservation officials from the University of Montana and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation officials at the Lubrecht Experimental Forest.

The Montana World Trade Center is a program of the University of Montana, operating in cooperation with universities throughout the state. The Center’s purpose is to help Montana businesses establish or strengthen their international commercial capabilities. The Center works to develop the untapped international trade opportunities for the state and region.

Craig Rawlings, President and CEO of Forest Business Network, said that he and Anthony Rodriguez of the Montana World Trade Center teamed up about a year ago to make this conference  happen. They subsequently hooked up with Xu Fang, Managing Director of WG Consulting, who was able to pull together a delegation of company executives and managers to attend the conference. The result was beyond their expectations. What they got were 14 executives and managers representing 15 Chinese and three South Korean companies who are very interested in purchasing lumber and wood products. Most of the companies represented have annual sales of $20-$75+ million. They represent about $300 million in annual imports into China.

Fang said that he worked with American Exports, a consortium representing the Softwoods Export Council, the APA Engineered Wood Association, and the Forest Products Association. Fang said that the delegation’s mission was to do some on-site investigation of the resources and the production facilities in the Idaho/Montana region. He said some of these companies already do a good deal of business in timber and wood products out of Georgia and the Southeast and are now looking into the potential on the West Coast.

“Now they are coming to investigate the interior, land locked states of Idaho and Montana to see if the additional transportation costs could be offset by other factors. Based on their initial observations it looks very encouraging,” said Fang.

Fang said that many of the wood products from this region are superior to those on the coast. He said the high density of Montana’s Ponderosa Pine was superior to the soft woods more readily available on the coast. He said the raw materials are a little more affordable here than on the coast as well.

Members of the delegation were certainly interested in the quality of the product. One of the first things that one of them did was to pick up one of Keith Wiegers’ display samples and sniff it. He quickly offered a whiff to his companions. Someone took a water bottle and wet a portion of the sample and sniffed it. He passed it around again and heads began nodding. They obviously liked what they were smelling. Fang said smell was a good indication of a wood’s density and quality.

Wiegers was there representing Bitterroot Valley Forest Products which does business across the nation and in Canada. The company has also sold softwood products in Korea to a chain of Milk & Honey Stores (sort of a deli/bakery).

Other valley business representatives that showed up to hawk their wares were Vic Lagerquist of Master Log Homes, Jeff Alexander of Great Western Log Homes and Bobbie Louviere of Brushbacks Woodshop. The delegation was also scheduled to make an on-site visit to Rocky Mountain Log Homes, south of Hamilton.

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