J.P. Maultsby Of Florida Plywood Speaks At Rotary ClubOct 15th, 2013 | By Admin | Category: Community News
By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
J.P. Maultsby, Vice President of Florida Plywood, describes himself as “a simple guy in the manufacturing business,” addressing the Madison Rotary Club about some of the challenges of being a small business in the current economic climate. Florida Plywood has been a family business since 1956, run by his dad, uncle and cousin. In 1999, Maultsby came back to Madison to join the family business. It is a “cut-and-size” operation; instead of the big 4×8 sheets of plywood, they do smaller sizes for specific orders. They sell precision-cut pieces to cabinet-makers, furniture makers and other manufacturing customers. In the 1970s, the business expanded, adding a particle-board mill, one of the first in the southeastern U.S., and a second plywood mill. Today, the company consists of 55 employees, with an average tenure of 16 years. Their chipboard products are formed with kiln-dried shavings and wood fibers, which they buy from sawmills, mix with resin and lay down in a press former that applies 2800 tons of pressure (or 390 pounds per square inch). It is heated to over 300 degrees. The panel is then sawed into strips, and sanded to within 3/1000 of an inch of specs. Before the wood-grain veneer laminate can be applied, the chipboard has to cool down for at least two weeks. When they are finished with a batch of chipboard, they will have some residue left over, which they sell to other customers, such as Buckeye. In the current market, the number of housing starts is okay right now, said Maultsby, but a higher number would be better; it is, after all, the number of housing starts that creates the most demand for plywood and chipboard products. In a housing boom of many years past, he recalls that Greenville Plywood was the plywood capital of the Southeast, shipping tons of product by rail all over the country. Today, things are a little different for small businesses, but Maultsby feels that they can still be competitive. For instance, right now, the cost of energy is a U.S. advantage. It adds a lot to the cost of consumer goods and raw materials to ship overseas, and that is where domestically produced goods have the advantage. “But if we’re not careful, we may give that (advantage) up,” he said. The government cannot tax-and-spend its way to prosperity, he added. It has to allow businesses and the people who run them to do what they do best. However, to the frustration of many small businesses, the biggest rock around their necks is the government. One example is the global warming and the 1997 Kyoto agreement that resulted in wooden pellets being burned as energy and pellet mills being created to produce them. However, most of the pellets produced are shipped to Europe, and their production takes up large amounts of wood fiber that could be put into other products, like those produced by Florida Plywood and the customers it sells to. Such energy policies now work against small businesses. Minimum wage is another obstacle. He is not against paying skilled workers very well if a business can afford it, but when the government mandates higher wages than many small businesses can afford, the result is businesses going under. In Florida, minimum wage is indexed for inflation, meaning that as prices go up, wages will go up as well. Then there is mandated health insurance adding to the cost of doing business. Small businesses face the same challenges as large organizations, but they have smaller staff and fewer resources. They need good representatives in government to get policy-makers to understand that. Still, he is optimistic. There is still a bright future for small businesses, especially small manufacturing businesses but they must be able to adapt to the challenges thrown at them. People are still buying manufactured goods, and this won’t change. There are industries where quick response and quick delivery is needed, and industries where custom parts are in demand. Furniture making that had gone overseas is now starting to come back. All in all, Florida Plywood is a great job. It’s some kind of fun, he told the audience, to take wood fibers and resins and shape them into sheets and panels of wood that will be used in all kinds of manufacturing. It’s a job in a company with a solid past behind it that looks toward the future that its products will help build.