Q&A: Steve Zika, CEO
By Jan Mitchell
Describe what your company does. How many employees do you have?
Hampton Lumber is a fourth-generation, family-owned wood products manufacturer and forestland owner, with roughly 1,700 employees. In addition to the lumber we produce at our mills, our wholesale business markets building products worldwide.
How long have you been in operation? How did your business get started? Why Oregon?
Hampton Lumber was established in 1942 with the purchase of our first sawmill in Willamina, Oregon – a mill that we still operate today. Oregon was and remains one of the best places in the world to grow trees sustainably.
What makes your product unique?
Wood is a renewable resource and the most environmentally-friendly building material we have. What makes lumber unique? What other product, over the course of its development, improves air and water quality while providing habitat and recreational benefits?
What other businesses are dependent on what you do? How has the local community benefited?
Our operations create good, year-round family-wage jobs in Northwest Oregon’s rural communities. If you count the small businesses we contract with for logging, trucking, engineering, and construction, our business generates over $100 million in direct and indirect income and benefits in Northwest Oregon alone.
Wood fiber that doesn’t become lumber generates byproducts like sawdust and chips for local pulp, paper, and particle board manufacturers. There is no waste when a log is manufactured locally.
We own around 80,000 acres of forestland in Oregon to supply our sawmills. These lands are free and open to the public most of the year and used for hunting, fishing, foraging, mountain biking, and hiking by residents and visitors alike.
In our communities, we are active supporters of local organizations that provide supplies and support to those in need. We partner with local schools to enhance STEM learning and career and technical education. We also support programs like Girls Build that create opportunities for girls 8-14 to build confidence and skills in building and other trades.
How has your business changed since it began?
Bud Hampton started in Oregon with a single sawmill in 1942. His son, John, eventually took over and started a wholesale lumber business, Hampton Lumber Sales (HLS), in 1950 and acquired timber land to help supply our sawmills. Now a fourth-generation family-owned company, Hampton has grown significantly. We operate nine sawmills in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia and manage roughly 140,000 acres in Oregon and Washington.
Technology has been a major force for change in our industry and resulted in significant gains in terms of safety and optimization. Rather than drastically reducing employment opportunities, these changes have changed the nature of the work to make it more high-tech and skilled.
What do you think your business will look like in five years?
We’ll continue to provide dimensional lumber products but with promising advances in wood technology, including cross-laminated timber, I hope to see our forests and our sawmills also providing some of the raw materials used to build tall buildings in cities throughout the Northwest.
The lumber business is volatile and filled with risk, but if we continue to invest in our people, the land, and continuous improvement, I’m confident that we will be here to weather whatever changes come our way.
What are your thoughts on the current state of manufacturing? Thoughts on the future of manufacturing?
Wood products manufacturing is struggling in the state. We face threats to working forests whether it be the result of climate change, wildfire, or excessive regulation that reduces timber supply. In Oregon today, it seems the business community is too often viewed as a political scapegoat rather than a partner in economic, environmental, and social progress. That means missed opportunities for economic growth and more livable communities.
For us, the future of manufacturing will be defined by the same thing that defines the future of our forests: resiliency. We are focused on the practices and strategies that will help our business remain healthy even as we weather inevitable changes and challenges. Our bet is that the manufacturers that continuously improve and remain deeply rooted in their local communities will be the ones that succeed in the years ahead.
Why is it important to have manufacturing in Oregon?
Manufacturing is the backbone of our economy. This is particularly true in rural areas. In the coastal communities where we operate, forest sector opportunities pay roughly twice the average annual salary for the area.
As a region, the Pacific Northwest consumes massive amounts of wood products, from lumber to paper and everything in between. We take great pride in being able to grow and make these products locally.
What makes you excited to come to work every day?
I enjoy being part of one of Oregon’s oldest industries and take pride in seeing that is has remained just as relevant as it was in the beginning. I work with great people at Hampton and across the sector. We aim to find a better way every day – that drive to continuously improve and find new ways of doing things makes this work challenging but also very rewarding.