Story by Chris Lawrence, MetroNews

MOUNTVILLE, Pa. — The decision by AHF Products to purchase two Allegheny Wood Products sawmills in West Virginia was made out of necessity.

The production of raw material hardwood in the United States is at the lowest level since the 1960s. The struggle to find hardwood supplies for their flooring plant in Beverly raised major concerns for AHF Products when it was announced Allegheny Wood Products would be closing all of its sawmill operations across West Virginia.

“We needed to secure a supply for our customers. We have some pretty large customers as you can imagine with box stores. We needed to make sure we could continue to supply them and maintain our high service level,” said Darrell Keeling, executive vice president of operations for AHF Products.

The supply of eastern hardwood lumber in the U.S. is currently 65% of what it was pre-pandemic and 40% of what it was before 2007. According to a company news release, the purchase of two former AWP sawmills recovered 100% of the lumber supply AHF would have lost due to the closure of AWP and secured a consistent lumber supply to protect AHF customers.

Keeling and AHF officials were quickly in touch with the court-appointed receiver to discuss the purchase of Allegheny’s sawmills in Norton, W.Va. in Randolph County and Smoot, W.Va. in Greenbrier County. Keeling said they stipulated to the receiver the need to keep both mills operational while the terms of a sale were negotiated. For the past three weeks, the two operations have continued to work and provided all of their output to the Beverly operations.

“We wanted to make sure we got these while they were still operating and they were able to continue to ship lumber into the plant,” Keeling told MetroNews.

AHF already had standing agreements to purchase raw material from the two mills. Keeling said it was part of the reason they selected those two to become in-house suppliers. He added they are not in the same “wood basket” and far enough apart to operate without competing against one another to buy the same logs.

It’s the first time AHF has taken the step of buying sawmills to supply their own operations.

“This is a first for us. Myself and another gentlemen there at Beverly have a lot of experience operating sawmills, so it’s not new to us, but it is new to the company to provide its own internal lumber supply,” said Keeling.

He added they do not want to end relationships with other hardwood suppliers.

“It’s important for us to maintain relationships with existing suppliers. They’re still important to us and critical. We’re open for business and will continue taking their lumber into the future,” he said.

The two mills have a combined payroll of about 80 personnel. All are now employed by AHF Products as of late last week. Keeling said some of the workers at the two facilities had left when AWP shutdown to find other jobs. He hoped some of them would want to return with those two operations stabilized.

“Everybody that was there we’ve hired and we expect we’ll grow a little bit from here,” he said.

Keeling said the two mills already produce the dimensions of lumber needed for their products made in Beverley and would be producing for the Randolph County operation exclusively. Other AHF Product plants are too far away to make shipping economical. However, there is a possibility in the future some off the West Virginia lumber could be shipped to Somerset, Pennsylvania to the company’s Engineered Lumber plant for some specialty products.

The by-products of the process, like sawdust, chips bark, as well as pallet lumber and cross ties would continue to be produced at the Smoot and North locations and sold to some of the existing customers. The two mills combined will supply 25 million board feet annually.

Keeling said the purchase is good news for both communities and will keep 80 or more workers on the job who would have otherwise been unemployed. He said it also gave the company a cushion for raw materials to keep up with the demand for their finished products at the Beverly facility.

AHF Products manufactures solid hardwood flooring products at Beverly under many of the industry’s most popular and respected brand names, including Bruce®, Hartco®, Robbins®, and Capella®.