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Slow, steady growth continues for Norstam

Slow, steady growth continues for Norstam
Slow, steady growth continues for Norstam
Rebecca Piccolo, left, and Kathy Wilcox off-bear veneer from the slicer, while Stacy McCubbins operates the machine. Also pictured, middle, is Donnie Gossage, an operator of the rotary, which is another veneer cutting machine. Photo by Ross Schulz (click for larger version)

If someone viewed the Norstam Veneers Inc. property in Mauckport in the days and weeks following the devastating fire in February 2008, they would hardly believe their eyes today.
The new and improved plant is fully operational and recently even added a second shift for the new year.
But, as far as the number of employees, customers and business in general, things have not quite returned to the level they were before the fire. Danny Utz of Corydon, the hardwood lumber and veneer company’s director of human resource, said the economy proved to be more difficult to overcome than the fire.
‘We had insurance on that (fire); we don’t have insurance on the recession,’ Utz said. ‘It’s slowly coming back. It’s been really hard. We’re starting to see an improvement, but it’s been a tough deal.’
Utz said Norstam is facing difficulties, similar to most companies in this economy. He said he was very disappointed recently when he learned of a 46-percent increase in the rate from South Harrison Water Co. He said it will cost Norstam an extra $700 to $800 per month for water.
‘We can’t pass that on to the customers,’ he said.
He also said health insurance continues to rise, and he knows it will be the same case this year.
But, all in all, he said, slow and steady growth continues and he expects 2011 might be the year they ‘start seeing a little daylight.’
Before the fire, the company employed 115 and now it is about 78, Utz said. Growth is slowly occurring, he said, and customers continue to come back to Norstam. This time last year the plant employed only 62.
One of the plant managers, Sterling Watkins, said hopefully this time next year the plant will see even more growth and employee additions.
‘We’ve got to take it one step at a time,’ he said.
Utz said the company has a core group of about 50 employees that stayed on through the fire and said all of the employees impressed him greatly this winter. On the morning of the ice storm in December, he said no managers were able to make it in to the plant on time and, yet, the employees had the plant operating like normal.
‘They already had it up and going by 7:30 (a.m.),’ he said.
As for the new 90,000-plus-square-foot structure, it is much better than before the fire, manager Eric Voyles said.
‘The footprint is almost exactly the same,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot more open space, it holds heat better, it’s taller and a lot more efficient.’
Voyles, who basically became project manager after the fire, said there’s plenty of room for growth in the plant.
Utz said the comeback couldn’t have been completed without the help of the state and county governments. Norstam officials expressed the desire to stay in Harrison County, even though Brandenburg and other communities offered a location for the plant following the fire. The county commissioners and councilmembers approved $900,000 in April 2008 to build a three-mile extension of a 12-inch water main line running from Watson Road south along S.R. 135 to the Norstam site, so an efficient sprinkler system could be installed.
More than 20 different species of wood are moved through the plant, starting out as a log and ending as a paper-thin piece of veneer.