J.M. Jones Lumber Company rips into global market

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 19, 2004

Hardwood trees from forests in the Natchez area continue to fuel the family owned J.M. Jones Lumber Company, where global market opportunities have captured a whopping 40 percent of the business.

With a new market opening for the company in Vietnam, Lee Jones has high hopes for more overseas expansions. What’s more, the demand for lumber in the United States has risen in the past several years.

&uot;The lumber business in the United States is doing very well,&uot; said Jones, a third-generation family member to run the company. &uot;When we had the recession back in 2000, 2001, 2002, interest rates dropped, and people began to refinance their houses and fix them up. The hardwood floor industry is booming.&uot;

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Two years of wet weather in the Appalachian area, from New Hampshire to the Carolinas, limited production there. &uot;We are in a boom,&uot; he said.

It is true that the closing of International Paper’s Natchez mill has affected his company, Jones said. &uot;We sold pulp wood to IP and sold them chips and boiler fuel, and we delivered it just three miles down the road,&uot; he said. &uot;Now we send it to Monroe, Bastrop and places like that, and it takes more money to transport it.&uot;

For the past 15 years, however, Jones has built up the timber export business. &uot;Since 1989, we’ve been exporting a lot of hardwood lumber, mostly to Europe and Mexico. Europe is in terrible straits. They don’t work. They can’t compete. The minimum wage is the equivalent of $30 an hour, and they get paid for 40 hours but work only 30. Belgium, France, Germany &045;&045; that’s where my lumber was going.&uot;

In Mexico, the companies with whom Jones dealt had difficulty competing with China, a market Jones tried but gave up because of the complications of dealing with the Chinese.

&uot;So I jumped on Vietnam, a fascinating place. Their natural forests have been over cut or over killed. The war devastated the forests,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re trying to furnish lumber for the little mom and pop furniture manufacturers there.&uot;

Vietnam buyers comprise only about 5 percent of his business now, but Jones hopes that will grow. At present, he is exporting to Mexico, Italy, France, Korea and Japan. And that 40 percent of his lumber business brings 50 percent of the company’s income.

Jones has listened closely to questions about why Natchez cannot become a center for furniture manufacturing. &uot;The only advantage we have in this area is that there are a few sawmills like ours,&uot; he said. &uot;But it’s very inexpensive to transport lumber. So it’s not a big thing to have the lumber available here. Furniture plants tend to go where there are other furniture plants so they can steal each other’s workers, share things &045;&045;we don’t have those traditions.&uot;

Furniture companies follow the cheap labor, Jones said. &uot;In China, there’s six-dollar-a-day labor; in Vietnam, they pay two dollars a day.&uot;

J.M. Jones Company mills logs from areas within a 100-mile radius of Natchez. Lee Jones has some concerns about the future of those resources. &uot;The raw material base around Natchez

is dwindling. There has been some over cutting of the forests. So many people have bought land for hunting and found they over bought and then over cut to compensate.&uot;

Demands on the local hardwood forests are great, he said, referring to areas of Adams, Claiborne, Jefferson and