KENDUSKEAG, Maine — The dozen employees who work at the production facility for Northeastern Log Homes will be furloughed for January and part of February, and the plant will be closed, owner Jonathan French said Monday. It’s the first such shutdown in the company’s history.
“What you’re hearing about the housing industry, we are feeling,” French said. “I would say it’s a sign of the times.”
The privately held company was founded in Groton, Vt., in 1972 and has sales offices in Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine.
Another dozen or so employees at the company’s sales offices will continue to work through the winter and won’t be affected by the temporary shutdown at the Kenduskeag facility, French said.
Winter historically is the slowest season for the housing business.
“I just decided that this year, the wisest thing to do would be to focus on sales,” French said.
The employees who will be furloughed were notified about two weeks ago so that they would have some time to prepare. They should be eligible to receive unemployment benefits, French said.
Northeastern Log Homes teamed up in 2007 with Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines to build dream cabins near Stowe, Vt., and in southern Illinois. The company also is known locally for its participation in innovative workplace health programs through the Wellness Council of Maine and its philanthropic donations of sports dugout kits to schools across the state.
French said that economics in his industry have changed quickly. A few years ago, the best thing to hear from prospective customers was that they had a house to sell before they could purchase a log home kit, he said.
“Today, about the worst thing anything can tell you is that they have a house to sell first,” he said. “There’s still a lot of interest out there, and this will break. When it does, we’ll all be busy.”
Workers precut logs and ready the log home packages for shipping at the 60-acre Kenduskeag facility. The majority of the home kits stay in the Northeast, but some travel as far away as Japan and South Korea, French said.
French anticipates that 2009 will look much like 2008 for his business with one major exception: Unlike this year, the end of 2009 should show clear signs of an economic recovery.
“I think that at the end of the year we’ll start to see light at the end of the tunnel,” French said.