Washington’s lumber industry is starting to show signs of economic improvement, but home building is not taking off fast enough to force lumber companies to put more people to work.

Washington’s lumber industry is starting to show signs of economic improvement, but home building is not taking off fast enough to force lumber companies to put more people to work.

Housing starts nationally are up 20 percent so far this year, but the numbers are still well below figures from 2008, The Daily News reported.

“You’ve got to attribute it to the domestic market. The industry is a long way from being healthy, I think, but there’s been a shift in the balance of supply and demand,” said Jon Anderson, publisher of Eugene-based Random Lengths, an industry trade publication.

Anderson said lumber producers on the West Coast are gradually starting to increase their inventory and add some shifts at mills, but the number of jobs remains flat.

A boost in sales at Weyerhaeuser has been good for workers at the company’s Longview mill, which accounts for a third of the company’s domestic lumber production.

Federal Way-based Weyerhaeuser spokesman Anthony Chavez said the gains are a result of a gradually improving housing market and expansion into new markets. Lumber prices rose 13 percent in the three-month period from April to June, the company said. Over the year, lumber prices have risen by 33 percent, according to Random Lengths.

“I think folks are cautiously optimistic. I think that’s a fair statement,” Chavez said.

Company analysts expect sales to level off in the three months from July to September because the summer building season is ending, he said.

The Weyerhaeuser lumber mill has 238 employees in Longview, and the company has no plans to expand the workforce.

The city of Longview is seeing an uptick this year in building-permit applications for new decks, garages and other remodeling improvements, said John Brickey, the city’s community development director. Applications to build new homes remain slow, he added.

Eric Pucci, owner of Longview-based Newrock Homes, said his company has built and remodeled 13 houses this year, which is roughly on par with last year. However, he said he is getting more calls for estimates this year, and out-of-county demand is picking up.

“I have no crystal ball, but we’re optimistic for sure,” said Pucci, who opened Newrock six years ago.

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