“My goal is to try to convince you that things are pretty good,” said Bob Smith of Virginia Tech University when addressing members of the Moulding and Millwork Producers Association who are hosting their annual meeting in Williamsburg, Va., this week. And for wood as a whole—things are very good.

Bob Smith of Virginia Tech University addresses members of the Moulding and Millwork Producers Association.

Smith, head of the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials at Virginia Tech, gave attendees an overview of the housing and building industry, including the fact that housing starts are up 5.7 percent. He also gave a picture of imports and exports and pointed out that the U.S. is the top softwood lumber importer.

But the big news for the industry is a new market—cross-laminated timber and mass timber construction.

“This is the most exciting thing in the wood industry since the invention of plywood,” said Smith.

He showed attendees a school built with this material that took 18 months less and half the labor of a concrete structure to build.

“That’s good news for this industry,” he said. “If they’re going to put wood on the outside they are going to put wood on the inside. The steel industry is so scared that have a $10 million ad campaign against it.

“The 21st century could literally be the wood century.”

Unfortunately, Smith also told attendees the bad news—one they are already well aware of—the lack of skilled labor.

“The loss of trade schools is such a problem,” remarked one attendee. “The industry needs people to work in the mills … We create a stigma in our industry that if you don’t go to college you are nothing.”

That’s the bad news. The good news is the moulding industry is looking strong.

Smith’s presentation was followed by an economic outlook given by Scott Bieser, Turlington and Company. Bieser pointed that inflation remains low despite a labor market at full employment.

“In recent months inflation has shown signs of increasing,” he said. He also told attendees that if interest rates rise remodeling activity will rise with it.

Scott Bieser of Turlington and Company gives an economic presentation to the MMPA gathering.

Both Smith and Bieser talked about the potential changes to come from President Trump.

“To protect American manufacturing Trump has talked about raising import tariffs and renegotiating or exiting some trade deals,” said Bieser.

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