Robots and Lumber Traders

Robots are increasingly being blamed for job losses these days. At the same time its been said that robots can’t perform as well as humans when it comes to “complex social interactions”. According to Science Daily, researchers recently found that personality factors are the best defence against losing your job to a robot.

Humans outperform machines when it comes to tasks that require creativity and a high degree of complexity that is not routine. As soon as you require flexibility, the human does better. The edge is in unique human skills.
– Rodica Damian, assistant professor of social and personality psychology, University of Houston

In assessing the threat therefore that robots pose for replacing lumber traders in the marketing function, could it be that the critical determinant may involve evaluating the degree to which lumber trading is deemed to involve “complex social interactions”?

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We’re told the study’s findings also suggest that traditional education may not be fully equipped to address the rapidly changing labour market. With that in mind, I read with interest Thomas Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times, Owning Your Own Future. Friedman argues that in the face of automation (“accelerations set loose by Silicon Valley in technology and digital globalization”), the self-motivation to learn – and keep learning – has become the most important life skill. He quotes education-to-work expert Heather E. McGowan: “Stop asking a young person WHAT you want to be when you grow up. It freezes their identity into a job that may not be there. Ask them HOW you want to be when you grow up. Having an agile learning mind-set will be the new skill set of the 21st century.”

Political analysts will long debate over where Brexit, Trump, and Le Pen came from. Many say income gaps. I’d say.. not quite. I’d say ‘income anxiety’ and the stress over what it now takes to secure – and hold – a good job. The notion that we can go to college for four years and then spend that knowledge for the next 30 is over. If you want to be a lifelong employee anywhere today, you have to be a lifelong learner.
– Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times (11 May 2017)

Who’s going to pay?

A jam-packed North American Wholesale Lumber Association Regional Meeting in Vancouver last evening heard a panel of experts discuss implications of countervailing duties on softwood lumber announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The latest round of the long-running dispute comes amid ramped-up political rhetoric on both sides of the border.

In candid presentations and Q&A session at the NAWLA Regional Meeting, Susan Yurkovich, President and Chief Executive Officer, Council of Forest Industries; Duncan Davies, President and Chief Executive Officer, Interfor Corporation; Jason Fisher, Associate Deputy Minister, Forest Sector at BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, captured attention of more than 250 industry participants. While Executive Director of NAWLA, Marc Saracco, acknowledged the significant role of lumber distributors on both sides of the border in facilitating efficient continental marketing of forest products, the real question of who pays looms heavily over the ongoing dispute.

Interfor’s CEO, Davies, reminded us that they, like Canada’s other major producers now heavily invested in U.S.-owned production facilities, are not part of the U.S. Lumber Coalition that is once again creating havoc, unprecedented price patterns of volatility and strength in lumber markets. Reports in today’s Vancouver Sun (“Canfor eyes acquisitions amid fallout from new U.S. duties”) confirm Canfor’s optimistic outlook with “well-positioned balance sheet in recent quarters,” with Canfor CEO Don Kayne adding that they see organic growth opportunities worth up to $300 million by 2018.” Sounds great. Meanwhile, it’s the small and medium-sized businesses who don’t own sawmills in the U.S. – the vast majority of Canada’s softwood operators including re-manners – who will be forced to pay the duties retroactively on any shipments made to the U.S. since Feb. 1.

In the face of the United States’ inability to satisfy American demand for softwood lumber with domestic production, the objective of restricting Canadian market share, with underlying aims of enhancing privately-held timber in the hands of select U.S. entities, points to inevitable, further increase in costs for the U.S. homebuilding industry. Ultimately, of course, the consumer pays. Someone tweeting about the issue might simply add:  Sad. Bad.

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Thanks to Tree Frog News for the following images from last evening at The Vancouver Club, posted with permission. Tree Frog’s full report available at this link: NAWLA 2017 Overview.

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2017 COFI Convention – 26 Takeaways

1. Convention buzzwords: shift (in fibre supply), declining (timber quality), instability (of supply), balance, diversification, value, engage, relationships, confidence, communication, connecting, collaboration

2. Most important trend shaping the global environment: dramatic expansion of the global middle class.
Jock Finlayson, Business Council of B.C., bemoaned Canada’s “slow-moving jurisdiction in a fast-moving world.”
The American economy continues to advance. Over the medium term, “B.C. needs to address a number of important structural weaknesses that threaten our prosperity”.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people are so full of doubt.
– Burtrand Russell

3. Historical devaluation of the Ruble triggered significant investment in state of the art sawmilling equipment in Russia. Currency-based advantage led to surge in softwood exports to China. Notion that Russia has an aging, limited infrastructure, is wrong. There are no logistical cost issues in Russia.
– Russ Taylor, President, Wood Markets

4. Russia has Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC). “Don’t ask me how.” – Russ Taylor

5. The panel assembled for the International Markets Review was a rare convention disappointment. U.S. homebuilding constraints are well-known. U.S. housing starts forecasts have become tedious. As for China, when Eric Wong, Canada Wood Beijing Office, warned that B.C. is losing softwood market share, no alarm bells sounded at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Growth in demand offshore is “continual” according to Wong, attributed in part to logging bans in China’s “natural forests” (25 million cube/year harvest reduction). Record softwood imports in 2016 in China >32 million cubes. In a post-beetle world, at least one trader was left wondering if B.C. (“the global resource for softwood,” according to architect Michael Green) should just go off the market.

6. India will be the 5th largest consumer market by 2025. 60% of the population in India is <35.
– Peter Bradfield, Forestry Innovation Investment

7. “The concept of innovation is.. what are you going to do with all of this growing information? Big Data connects people, like us, to the brilliance in the room”. Challenges facing the Big Data Revolution: Volume, Velocity, Variety, Veracity.
– Rory Armes, Founder & CEO, Cumul8

8. “Innovative technologies will help attract tech-savy video gamer kids who aren’t considering a resource-based industry.”
Mark Gerberman, AR/VR Strategic Partnerships & Business Development, Finger Food Studios

9. How can we keep better track of our natural resources using emerging technologies? We need better data and better analysis tools.
In the future, drone technology and remote sensing will identify the log and the mill, and determine the optimal products and customers – before that tree is felled. “We’re working to offer the industry a turn-key drone.”
– Mike Wilcox, Co-founder/COO, Spire Aerobotics

10. “It’s Urban Wood Building instead of Tall Wood Building.”
– Michael Green, Principal, MGA 

11. “Instability of (wood) supply makes people step back.” – Michael Green

12. “Changing the public perception about what’s possible.. reshaping public perception.. is the challenge. But it’s really happening. These ideas are not abstract. Thirty storeys? When we do that or will we do that remains to be seen, but it’s possible.” – Michael Green

13. “The construction industry is broken.”
– Michael Green

14. “Here in B.C., we may be making the right products but we need to be part of the right system. The idea is universal. We want to be leaders in becoming part of this ‘system’ thinking.” – Michael Green

15. TOE = Timber Online Education. Open access to leading experts.. “from forest to frame”. Free global education in wood design, construction, policy, markets, ownership, and environmental impact.

16. “We didn’t blockade because we wanted to stop the forestry, we wanted to be a part of it.”
– Chief Derek Orr, McLeod Lake Indian Band

17. “The Tsilhqot’in decision was a game changer. When I first meet with a chief, it better not be to ask to build a road. We’re there to undertake their unique vision for their community. What is your vision? Under-promise and over-deliver. If you don’t honour one of those commitments then your relationship goes backwards.”
– Karen Brandt, VP, Corporate Affairs & Sustainability, Interfor

18. “Engage and engage early. Meaningfully engaging with First Nations is how you build relationships. If you’re too busy to sit down with us, then we’re too busy to give you support.”
– Willie Sellars, Councillor, Williams Lake Indian Band

19. “I like to think Prince George is the Bio Energy capital.”
– Lyn Hall, Mayor, City of Prince George, who confirmed the COFI Convention returns to PG next year.

20. “The urban and rural connection, not the urban and rural divide.”
– Greg Moore, Mayor, City of Port Coquitlam
21. “Reinvesting in our business to innovate and modernize the technology in our mills isn’t about making more lumber. We’re not going to make more lumber. We’re going to make more value. Industry and government need to get together to get more value out of a scarce fibre resource.”
– Ted Seraphim, President & CEO, West Fraser

22. “How to run at two shifts efficiently instead of three shifts is the challenge. Three shifts are not possible.” – Nick Arkle, Co-CEO, Gorman

23. “(The softwood lumber dispute) could lovingly be called a hardy perennial. But it is a mutating form of bacteria that has all but become antibiotic-resistant.”
– David Emerson, B.C.’s Trade Envoy to the United States

24. “The consumer will pay the price.” – Duncan Davies, President & CEO, Interfor

25. “The softwood file is top of mind for the entire government. We have a strong case but that’s cold comfort for the people feeling the pain of the imposition of duties. A good, strong, fair, mutually-beneficial deal is preferable to long litigation. On both sides of the border, trade is central to maintaining standard of living. Trade creates jobs.”
– Kirsten Hillman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Trade Policy & Negotiation, Global Affairs Canada

26. Q: Is a market share-based quota inevitable?
A: “Nothing is inevitable.” – Kirsten Hillman

Carrier

It’s been said that excellence is the unlimited ability to improve the quality of what you have to offer. Dakeryn’s strong partnered approach in the marketing, re-manufacturing, and distribution of Appearance Grade lumber with western sawmills of excellence is integral to the company’s long association with key producers.

When Carrier Lumber honoured Dakeryn Industries as their “#1 Customer” with a trophy presentation Friday to President Rob Chimko, it reaffirmed the importance of quality as a building block in the lumber industry. As noted on their website, three principles have guided growth for companies associated with the Carrier Group:

  • Innovation in milling technology
  • Community partnerships with aboriginal groups and community stakeholders
  • Responsible management of the forest ecosystem.

Carrier has achieved sound growth over the years by consistently producing high quality lumber, a determination to form long lasting relationships with customers and to provide the best service possible.

Think Harder

Market Minute: Amidst the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute, underlying strong demand on both sides of the border seems to be catching buyers unawares on many fronts. There are reports this week that some mills in B.C. are extending order files to unprecedented levels. In their February 8, 2017 Industry Update, CIBC Capital Markets describes dramatic lumber price increases since February 1 as “an encouraging sign for producers’ ability to pass on duties to U.S. consumers when tariffs are actually imposed.. considering we are only in partial retroactive territory, and we still have no idea how high Commerce will set initial duties..”

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There are many joys in blogging. We appreciate that cyberspace offers bloggers virtually unlimited latitude in expression and range of viewpoints. The medium can be a useful tool in support of business and development of customer relationships. In these days of heightened political sensitivities and polarized opinions, it’s evident that messaging via any medium creates perception of opportunity as well as risk. Measuring effectiveness may call for nuance. It’s interesting to read of the early feedback on the Super Bowl ad of our friends at 84 Lumber.

Of course daily now we’re exposed to direct messaging of folks marching in the streets, advertising a particular point of view or belief on, what is often a hastily-scratched message on cardboard. Through six years, I have found Harderblog to be a positive experience and useful medium for periodic messaging in support of lumber marketing here at Dakeryn Industries. Some might suggest that the messaging here is no more effective than if I decided to march in the streets with a placard advertising personal beliefs in support of the value-added services we provide. But then I took heart in affirmation of my beliefs on that score when I saw the image below. My only suggestion is that if I were a sign-carrying marcher in that parade I’d suggest a small revision to make it read: If you believe in lumber, think Harder…

best-damn-photos-beliefs-sign-fit

image source: brobible.com

Lumber Super Bowl

This year, Dakeryn has decided against buying TV ad time for the Super Bowl. The decision is based on analysis of how to most effectively nurture the relationships with our valued customers and supplying mills. It could be that the $5 million-plus cost for a 30-second ad played into the decision as well. But that hasn’t deterred 84 Lumber. According to this report at Adweek, 84 Lumber will make its Super Bowl advertising debut just before halftime of this year’s event – the only brand to purchase more than a minute of airtime for a single spot.

We’re told the purpose of the ad is to launch a year-long campaign focused on recruitment, targeting men aged 20 to 29. According to the report, 84 Lumber includes some 250 locations across 30 states and made Forbes’ 2016 list of “Largest Private Companies in America.” It is also one of the biggest such businesses run by a woman; Hardy Magerko was chosen by her father at the age of 27 to lead the company he founded in 1956.

Our industry is going through a period of extreme disruption. And I’ve always preferred to be the one doing the disrupting, rather than the one being disrupted. But to do that, we need to hire and train people differently. We need to cast a wider net, and to let the world know that 84 Lumber is a place for people who don’t always fit nicely into a box.
– Maggie Magerko

Economy Grade

When referencing “Economy” in relation to lumber, we’re talking falldown or lower grade. That’s not to say there can’t be value in economy grade. A whole industry of utilizing lower grades finds economic viability around remanufacturing lower grades of wood. At the same time, bottom-line, results-driven users of lumber are recognizing benefits of enhanced value in quality in planning construction inventory needs. It’s understandable that suppliers concerned with building brand recognition around quality, both in terms of service and product, tend not to build that awareness around ‘economy’.

In the airlines industry, ‘economy’ defines a supposed base line of minimum, acceptable service. Or so we thought. But not so much anymore. In an effort to redefine coach by re-grading passengers, it’s reported here a number of airlines are introducing a section with even fewer perks than economy class. The “deprivations” United passengers will be experiencing with implementation of “basic economy” suggest levels of service that will not allow for any overhead bin space – and declaration for boarding last. Presumably everybody still lands at the same time.

This trend is interesting considering the inferior quality of products and service being promoted seems to be ‘flying’ in the face of other aspects of commercial/industrial/consumer trends. In this age of heightened branding awareness, the airline approach seems to be contradictory to what their branding goals purport to represent. In the lumber business, “adding value” has built-in connotation for upgrade of quality in product and service, not a dumbing down of those variables. In fact, in the event of a new hybrid tax and quota softwood lumber agreement, some suggest that ‘economy’ could be the first to go.. on a slow boat to China.

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From NLGA, Standard Grading Rules for Canadian Lumber