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Longevity sustains Sierra Forest Products
Editor’s note: This is the fourth of several articles on individuals, businesses and others recognized at the Chamber of Commerce banquet.
When Sierra Forest Products was honored in November as the Porterville Chamber of Commerce’s Large Business of the Year, a large contingent of employees were on hand to share in the honor.
It is those longtime employees that stand out at the lumber mill headquartered in Terra Bella.
That fact was not lost on SFP general manager Kent Duysen, his father Glen or brother Larry who have run the mill.
“You don’t stop and think about that [longtime employees] very often, but you should. A good part of our success is our employees,” said Kent. He noted that of the company’s front office employees they average 31.6 years with the company. The rookie office employee has been with the company eight years now.
The longevity of employees does not stop at the front office. In the mill, there are several 20- and 30-year employees.
Kent Duysen agreed that timbering “kind of gets in your blood.”
During the presentation of the award, it was noted the company was incorporated in 1964.
The mill — on 80 acres — milled its first log in February of 1968. It was founded by John Hamacher and Glen Duysen, who would eventually buy out his partner.
The mill was located in Terra Bella because of its close proximately to Sequoia National Forest and at the time its abundant supply of timber. At one time the Duysen’s expanded by purchasing the lumber mill north of Dinuba, but closed that mill in 2000 after President Bill Clinton’s proclamation creating the Giant Sequoia National Monument greatly reduced the amount of timber that could be harvested on the forest.
Since 2000, the availability of timber has been an issue for the mill, which is the last one left in the southern part of the state.
“The shortage of logs is still an issue. It is kind of the politics of forest management,” he said.
“We’ve been through those years,” added Kent, “and at times the future has been uncertain.”
Still, he said, their employees have stuck with them.
During those good years, the mill employed two shifts and 240 workers. Today, it is down to just one shift and 120 workers. The last time the mill was able to run two shifts was in 2006.
The mill today is modern and efficient, using every speck of a log. Lumber, bark, sawdust, wood chips and shavings all have value and all are used. What is not sold is used in the mill’s cogeneration plant that was constructed in the mid-1990s.
In the award presentation, it was noted how the company has been a strong employer and one that often gives back to the community. Just recently, the mill helped in the milling of several century old logs pulled out of Shaver Lake, but the company and its employees have participated in cancer runs, local parades, educational events and more.
“True stewards of their community, they have been active in and support a variety of good works causes,” noted the presentation.
The fact that the company is a major employer was demonstrated about 20 years ago when it paid its workers in $2 bills. Kent said they probably should have warned the banks back then, because so many of those $2 bills began circulation through town.
Besides Kent, Larry Duysen is the contract logging superintendent and Glen, although retired, can still be found in the office occasionally and at nearly every company function, including the chamber banquet.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by the entire community,” said Kent. “We really appreciate the community thinking about us.”