Portland-based Stimson Lumber announced today that it will lay off at least 60 people at its Forest Grove mill—40 percent of the workforce there—and move some of its operations to Idaho and Montana.
Stimson CEO Andrew Miller presented the layoffs as a direct response to three environmental and tax policies championed by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. He cited a $1 billion-a-year tax increase to fund schools passed by the Oregon Legislature this month; a 2015 Clean Fuels Program requiring reduced carbon emissions, and a cap and trade package currently under consideration.
Miller said all three of those policies raise costs for his timber business.
"I do not need to be hit with a 2×4 in the face to see that Oregon is an urban state and rural Oregon is a place for urbanites to recreate," Miller said. "Investment capital and jobs are mobile. I see the smoke. I do not need to wait for the fire. It is time to adapt to a changing environment by moving on."
The Stimson layoffs appear to mark a surrender by Miller, who for the better part of a decade has railed against Democratic control of Oregon politics, even as he operated Stimson's sawmill, which has operated since 1933 in Forest Grove, 30 miles west of the liberal stronghold of Portland. (The company also has operations in Clatskanie and Tillamook.)
"Somebody in the goddamn metro area is trying to stand up and protect natural-resource businesses," Miller told WW in a 2012 cover profile. "If we do not have urban political leaders who protect the natural-resource businesses, then we are on the long road to decay."
In 2012, he spent more than a million dollars on political contributions, funding a conservative insurrection on Portland's doorstep in Clackamas County with election-season ads warning against "Portland Creep." That plan was briefly successful. But he was never able to bankroll winning Republican candidates in the Oregon Legislature, and slowly retreated from his efforts.
The "blue wave" of legislative Democrats elected in 2018 provided Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, with the legislative super-majorities necessary to pass a tax increase and—probably—a cap on carbon emissions, which appears to be the final straw for Miller. It's also part of a wider reaction by timber company owners against the governor, the Legislature and even the business lobby, for allowing the Student Success Act to pass this month.
As WW reported earlier, Rob Freres, the CEO of another large privately-held Oregon forest products company, Linn-County-based Freres Lumber, angrily resigned from Oregon Business & Industry, saying the state's largest business lobbying group had capitulated to Democratic desires for more taxes without doing anything to reduce the cost of government services.
Miller today declared his departure with a jeremiad similar in tone to Freres' letter of resignation from OBI.
"The formula is quite simple: businesses will go where they are wanted," Miller concluded. "The unfortunate consequence of Oregon's assault on businesses is that our rural and agricultural communities will continue to pay the price for poor leadership. There is a significant difference between naturally changing and shifting economies, and local government disregarding entire populations of Oregonians.
"Oregon's leaders have communicated that they don't value natural resource employers like Stimson, and we have been forced to respond by shifting our workforce to states like Idaho and Montana where the environment is more hospitable."