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 Production at Conway timber plant resumed Thursday

[Jun 16, 2023]

Production at the shuttered timber plant in Conway resumed Thursday after Mercer Mass Timber of Canada announced it has taken ownership of the facility.

Mercer, a division of global timber producer Mercer International Inc., purchased the Conway factory and another plant in British Columbia, Canada, from Structurlam Mass Timber Corp.

The company submitted an $81.1 million proposal to buy Structurlam's assets out of bankruptcy -- known as a stalking horse bid -- that was approved in U.S. Bankruptcy Court two weeks ago. The deal closed Thursday afternoon.

Brian Merwin, senior vice president of Mercer, has been at the Faulkner County factory since Tuesday to oversee the manufacturing restart. The 288,000-square-foot timber plant abruptly shut down in January after Walmart cancelled the facility's largest contract. About 145 production employees were laid off immediately.

Manufacturing resumed under the Mercer brand Thursday, though the new owners -- when the deal was under consideration -- already had placed an order in May for the plant to produce glued laminated timber (glulam), leading to the rehiring of about 20 line workers.

"As we started moving through the acquisition process and once we knew we were the stalking-horse buyer ... we actually gave one of our glulam orders to bring a few of the folks back to work in Conway," Merwin said, noting that about 40 employees now work at the plant. "We are producing some product in the factory today and we will be producing product in the plant next week."

Beyond that, Merwin could not predict how many of the roughly 170 employees at the plant when it was closed would return.

"We just bought the factory ... and we're just starting to get to know everyone," Merwin said Thursday. "Where we go from here, ultimately it depends on how quickly the order file ramps up. That's all I can really say right now and don't want to speculate on that. We intend to go quickly but that ultimately depends on the order file."

Workers released by Structurlam will be given the first opportunity to return to the plant, Merwin said.

Structurlam began manufacturing at the facility in 2021, producing cross-laminated timber to build Walmart's new global headquarters in Bentonville. The retailer said it planned to receive more than 1 million cubic feet of Arkansas-grown lumber manufactured in Conway.

It was unclear Thursday whether Mercer would try to gain the Walmart contract that Structurlam initiated. Mercer is "not yet able to comme