ufp-eatonton-llcUniversal Forest Products continues to grow and prosper in its location in the Briar Patch since it set up shop in 1988.

The Eatonton location has increased its sales by 28 percent and is anticipating 18.6 percent growth next year, General Manager of Operations Jason Settles told The Eatonton Messenger, adding that its workforce increased by 20 percent and is expected to increase another 16 percent.

Universal Forest Products Inc. or UFPI, is a leading manufacturer and single-source supplier of wood, wood alternative products and engineered lumber for the retail, industrial and construction markets.

The publicly-traded company is headquartered in Michigan and has approximately 100 facilities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Australia with a total of about 8,000 employees and $2.9 billion in sales in 2015.

The 54 employees in Eatonton, which includes sales and office staff, build wooden boxes, crates, skids, and pallets for big industries to ship and store their products, and roof trusses for Legacy Housing.

“We’ll run 35-40 million feet of lumber through here in a year,” Settles said, figuring the statistic in his hea then confirming on a calculator.

Universal Forest Products of Eatonton General Manager of Operations Jason Settles inventories wood outside the local plant.
Universal Forest Products of Eatonton General Manager of Operations Jason Settles inventories wood outside the local plant.

UFP first opened in Eatonton’s South Industrial Park to produce studs, floor joists and roof trusses for Horton Homes when Horton was putting out 100 homes a day. “They were our only customer,” Settles said. “If it wasn’t for Dudley Horton in 1988, we wouldn’t have come. We still do business with him and will continue to; we owe a lot to Dudley.”

When the housing market declined and Horton’s business followed, Eatonton UFP began producing for the industrial manufacturing market, which now accounts for 79 percent of its sales. They custom design and build shipping and storage containers such as boxes, crates, skids and pallets for big-name customers. For example, if the industrial company needs to ship expensive pieces of equipment it just manufactured, the Eatonton UFP staff uses 3-D software to design the crate, then perform compression tests and racking tests, “so we know that crate can hold the 10,000-pound piece of equipment,” Settles said. “We design for the customer’s needs. We use a lot of high grade wood.”

When Legacy Housing purchased and set up shop in one of the old Horton facilities in February, UFP got back in the truss-building business again. Currently, new roof trusses are seven to 10 percent of Eatonton UFP’s business, Settles said.

“But it is a big boost to our business because we already had the equipment to build them,” he noted. “Equipment is not cheap, so you don’t want it to sit idle.”

They purchase almost all of their lumber for production from Interfor lumber company in Putnam County and Pollard Lumber in Appling, Settles said, and UFP employees cut it into the desired measurements and rout it out. The finished product is shipped within 24-48 hours of taking the order, Settles said.

UFP had been renting its facility from Horton since 1988 and was able to purchase it at a tax auction in September 2015 for $135,000.

“It was an exciting day for the employees when we told them ‘Eatonton-Putnam County is still our home and we will continue to do business here in Eatonton,’” Settles said, adding a shout-out to the Putnam Development Authority, “because they really wanted us to be here in Eatonton, too, and helped to make it possible.”

Since purchasing the facility, UFP has invested $1 million in capital expenditures around the production area, which totals 55,000 sq. ft., according to Settles.

Luther Butts, left, and Oscar Bravo-Salvador work on the production side of Universal Forest Products of Eatonton recently.
Luther Butts, left, and Oscar Bravo-Salvador work on the production side of Universal Forest Products of Eatonton recently.

“The people are proud we want to provide them a safe work environment and provide opportunity for them to provide for their families,” the GMO said, noting one employee has worked there 30 years, several others have been there more than 20 years and a lot have been there 10 years.

“At least 25 percent of the work staff has been here since the grand opening,” he added. “For most people that come to work here, it’s not a job, it’s a career.”

Mill Supervisor Josh Alliston has been there five years. “They’re good to me,” he said. “It’s just a good place to work with great benefits and they treat us right.”