Nearly 200 people attended a resource fair in Shelton on Wednesday, the first organized community response to help mill workers and others who will be affected by three Shelton-area mill closures.
Simpson Lumber Company LLC and Olympic Panel Products recently announced asset sales to other companies, which will result in about 500 lost jobs and the closure of three mills, including Simpson’s landmark site on the Shelton waterfront.
A Simpson mill in nearby Dayton also will close.
Simpson’s two mills and related assets were sold to Sierra Pacific Industries of Northern California. Sierra officials say they intend to tear down Simpson’s existing waterfront mill and build a new one in its place, but it’s not expected to be operational until 2017.
Olympic Panel Products has sold its Shelton mill to Swanson Group Manufacturing, a Springfield, Oregon, company. That mill is expected to close in mid-2016, officials at the resource fair said Wednesday.
Simpson workers expect to lose their jobs toward the end of June.
Wednesday’s fair at the MTA Transit-Community Center in downtown Shelton wasn’t specifically a job fair — that’s set for June 10 at the same location — but was created to highlight a range of services workers might tap now and in the future to address issues such as their finances.
Two Shelton-based credit unions — Peninsula Credit Union and Our Community Credit Union — helped organize Wednesday’s fair.
Peninsula Chief Executive Jim Morrell said the fair targeted three groups: Simpson and Olympic Panel workers, as well as small businesses that rely on those employees for business.
“It is a major life transition for all these people,” he said.
But the tone among workers on Wednesday wasn’t bitter or angry. There was some shock and surprise, but one worker acknowledged that transition comes with the territory if you are employed in the wood products industry.
Among those in attendance:
• Kerry Harvey, 62, who worked for Simpson for 44 years, mostly as a forklift driver. He said he was in a better position than most workers because he learned about the mill sale three days before his retirement. Still, he said the trickle down effect of so many layoffs is going to be hard on the community. Mason County unemployment for April was 7.1 percent.
• Chris Arnold, 46, who worked for Simpson for 10 years as a millwright, someone who repairs things that break in a mill. He has a wife and two children and built his home six years ago, he said. He attended the fair, seeking information about refinancing his mortgage. Arnold already has an interview lined up in Enumclaw, but that’s nearly two hours from Shelton. “I’ll do what I have to do to support my family,” he said.
• Jeremy Marquardt, 32, said he was one of 18 employees who lost their jobs at Green Diamond Resource, a company that has ties to Simpson but was spun off as the timberlands division in 2006. Marquardt, who worked in re-forestation, said September would have marked 10 years in his job, but he learned he was losing his job last Thursday. He’s not sure why, although he believes it is tied to the mill sales.
“Green Diamond has been good to me,” he said. “I just hope they realize the value of their employees going forward,” he said.
The June 10 job fair is next for these workers. It will run 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the MTA Transit-Community Center, 601 W. Franklin St., Shelton. WorkSource Mason County also is conducting job-search preparation classes every work day leading up to the job fair. For more information, call 360-427-2174.