Simpson Lumber Company explores possible sale

Privately owned Simpson Lumber Co. with mills in Tacoma, Longview and Shelton and the Southeast, is on the sale block.

The Tacoma-based company has hired a financial adviser to explore the possibility of selling the concern, the company said in a statement. In addition to its mills in the Northwest, the company has operations in Georgetown, South Carolina, and Meldrim, Georgia.

Simpson’s door-making operation, Simpson Door Co., is not for sale. Simpson Door’s sole plant is in McCleary.

Sale of the lumber company would be the second major change for Simpson this year. The company in March announced the sale of its Tacoma kraft paper mill to RockTenn of Norcross, Georgia, for $343 million. As part of that deal, RockTenn signed a seven-year wood chip supply contract with Simpson Lumber Co. Wood chips are the basic raw material from which paper is made.

The company said it sold its sole paper mill in part because a large national company such as RockTenn has the financial muscle to continue needed investments in the mill that weren’t available to the private company. RockTenn has said it will spend some $60 million upgrading the Tacoma paper mill over the next three years. In addition to the paper and pulp mill, the sale included a co-generation facility at the Tacoma Tideflats mill that produces electricity from mill wastes. That power is sold mostly to California utilities to help satisfy their requirements for power from renewable sources.

Simpson Lumber is a major employer in Shelton, where the mill employs some 230 workers, down from 287 earlier this year. In Tacoma, the Simpson sawmill employs 142 workers, the company said Monday. Nationwide, Simpson Lumber Co. employs 800, said company spokeswoman Betsy Stauffer.

The company has a long history in the Northwest, being founded in Matlock in 1890. Simpson constructed a network of rail lines to bring timber from the woods to its mills early in its history. Those timberlands are now owned by a separate company, Green Diamond Resources Co., with links to the same owners as Simpson. That timber-owning company was spun off from Simpson in 2006.

The company told its workers earlier this month of the prospect of a sale, but assured them the mills would continue operating normally at least until any ownership change.

“Company leaders will provide more information when there is news to share,” the company said. “Meanwhile, all Simpson facilities will continue operating as usual, focused on safe operations, attentive customer service and manufacturing excellence.”

There is no deadline for making a decision on a sale, said Stauffer.

“We could sell one mill, two mills or the entire company or none of the company,” said Stauffer. “We’re trying to determine whether the mills are best kept under our ownership or someone else.”

If the one or more of the mills is sold, the corporate headquarters on the Tacoma Tideflats likely would shrink proportionally, she said, with some corporate employees likely being employed by the new mill owners.