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Hedstrom Lumber Co. hits century mark
Photo: Howard Hedstrom
In a rare example of business longevity, Hedstrom Lumber Co. is still thriving on the North Shore after 100 years. How that was accomplished, according to company president, Howard Hedstrom, was through perseverance and a willingness to adapt as the landscape changed.
Wood was already a way of life to his grandfather Andrew Hedstrom when he came to the United States from Sweden in the beginning of the 20th century. A carpenter by trade, he had come to the Grand Marais area where a contingent of his original countrymen were trying to carve out a new beginning. There he met his future father-in-law, and when the remains of a burned out sawmill in Tofte came up for sale, he saw an opportunity to get in on wood at the ground floor. Trees were harvested and milled into lumber by the Hedstroms for the first time in 1914.
“He bought the parts and pieces, and put it back together on Maple Hill (in Grand Marais)”, says Hedstrom. The family tradition that emerged out of that beginning has lasted through four generations, with Howard’s son, Jack, also working for the business. One important adaptation has been to add owners outside of the family. Hedstrom’s dad and five uncles harvested trees for the mill in the early days, and Howard and his brother worked together after that. Now with his son and nephews, there are people outside the family adding their expertise as accountant, chief financial officer and sales VP.
Dealing with the cyclical nature of the timber industry has been a challenge, but Hedstrom believes that by diversifying and finding their niche, they will continue to thrive.
“Use everything” is the philosophy that Hedstrom says has kept the company going through tough times. In addition to boards, wood chips are sold to paper mills, bark is turned into landscaping material, sawdust goes to pellet manufacturers and any other leftover waste is sold to biomass facilities for heating.
That use-every-inch-of-every-log attitude, as well as realizing when to step back, have proven to be successful adaptive tools. Hedstrom Lumber produces 15 million board feet of lumber annually, a strategic reduction from 25 million board feet when demand for lumber declined in the early 2000s.
Adapt. Adapt. Adapt. That process has never stopped in what Hedstrom calls “a pretty tough business,” even after staying current with more mechanization and computerized controls, bigger equipment, and better kilns.
“We don’t compete head to head with the bigger mills” says Hedstrom, but “because we are smaller, we can accommodate specialized projects to order.”
During July, Hedstrom’s hosted open houses to show its appreciation for employees, truckers and loggers. The company invited the general community to come inside for tours.
“We gave a deliberate invitation to get more people up to see what we do,” stated Hedstrom, an open door policy that he sees as important to good relations. “The timber wars aren’t what they used to be, but keeping good public standing is a constant job in this industry.”
Hedstrom gives the example of wildfires at Ham Lake and Pagami Creek in recent years as evidence for the need for human forest management, something in which the logging industry plays a key role. The fires were caused by a significant blowdown event that stacked up drying wood for miles, and Hedstrom says harvesting wood from the forest is an efficient way to prevent out of control fires. “If we don’t manage the forest, nature will, and it doesn’t do it delicately,” he said.
Defending logging’s impact on the environment, and its benefits to the economy by providing jobs to 35 regular employees, making them one of the largest employers in Cook County, Hedstrom said that wood products come from a renewable resource and are more environmentally friendly at their end-use in construction.
Commemorating the centennial of their continuous operations is a new book called “Sawdust in Their Blood: 100 years of the Hedstrom Lumber Co,” written by Jim Boyd (Northern Wilds). Hedstrom calls the 90-page hardcover a fabulous book that chronicles not just his family’s journey, but an important part of the region’s history.
Kitty Mayo is a North Shore-based freelance writer.Previous Construction Articles:
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