A Cut Above With Bruce Kicklighter

Bruce Kicklighter

Bruce Kicklighter, who’s been involved with the wood products industry for more than 30 years, is the sales manager for the Southeast United States with the Carbotech Group, an SFPA associate member specializing in operational efficiency for sawing and planing mills by offering stem/log handling equipment, primary and secondary cutting/profiling solutions, and board handling. Carbotech acquired Autolog, which Kicklighter had been with for nine years, in July 2021, and he now represents both companies.


Why Southern Pine? What is it about this industry you enjoy?

It was a job I just kind of fell into, but I loved it, and I love lumber. I just can’t explain it any other way. I love the people. They’re just good people. I love trees, I love lumber. It’s just a great fit for me. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I enjoyed working in mills, where I got a lot of my experience, but I really enjoy doing what I’m doing now. I get to visit a lot of customers, see a lot of equipment, and talk about projects and how they can benefit the mills. It’s pretty exciting stuff.


Fun question real quick. You said you love lumber. What is your favorite piece of lumber?

Of course, it’s Southern Yellow Pine as far as the species. I mean I like it all. At the first mill I worked at, we did everything from 2×4 to 2×12 to 4×4 to 4×6 and decking, so I got a lot of exposure to the products and the various grades. But Southern Yellow Pine in general is my baby. I love it.


You’ve seen a lot, but there’s got to be something that still makes you think, “Wow, we really do that,” or, “That’s really happening.”

There are a lot of “wow” moments out there visiting mills, and I don’t want to sound negative, but you go some places and you just see them operating as if it were 40 or 50 years ago. That’s kind of disheartening.

You need to remain competitive. I think we learned a harsh lesson a few years back in the mid-to-late 2000s. It’s a very different ball game, and it takes a lot of intricate details, a lot of paying attention, and a lot of really good equipment to make a good living in this industry. I don’t own a mill, but some of those things surprised me.


This is an old industry, right? But there’s been progress and innovation along the way. So, what are some of those areas the industry can improve on? What do you think is the next step?

Everybody’s at a different level. Some are down here, some are way up here already, but there’s always room for improvement. And you have to have good, reliable equipment. That equipment needs to be robust for Southern Pine for sure. It needs to be modern. And then, of course, the technological side, automation, is important.

It keeps people safe, keeps people’s bodies and hands out of the equipment when a system can run automatically. And then it paves the way for more skilled people to take care of systems, the technical people who know how automation works.

There are just so many facets to it, but I would say invest in new equipment and new technologies.


I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier about getting out there and talking to your customers. Not that I want to share any Carbotech trade secrets, but what are you hearing from them?

Naturally, there’s a lot of uncertainty right now in the world in general, as well as here in the U.S. There’s a lot of uncertainty across many platforms. There’s just a lot going on. Housing, of course, and interest rates.

But most of the places I go, these guys have been around a long time. They’ve seen stuff like this. There have been times they’ve made plenty of money for a couple of years, but then there have been times they’ve had to take out loans or put up their house to make payroll, so these people know what they’re doing. They’ve been in business for a long time.

A lot of these family businesses, and these families that run these mills, they know what’s going on and they know how to prepare for it. They’re used to it. And even though it’s a little bleak right now, nobody’s gloom and doom. They all have good outlooks for the industry, and I give a lot of credit to organizations like SFPA and others that are working toward educating those who don’t know how all this works on how we make beautiful lumber responsibly from what we’ve been blessed with as a natural resource.

The more we educate and the more markets we tap into, we don’t have to just rely on the housing sector.


You mentioned sustainability, and that’s a huge message right now, but I’m also encouraged to hear so many people in this industry aren’t “doom and gloom” given 2008, COVID-19, and other challenges. Yet somehow the industry continues to not only survive but thrive after each one, right?

So, what are you most excited about for the rest of 2024? What do you see is going to be our big moment?

That’s a that’s a pretty large question there. What I see as far as where I work is the advent of artificial intelligence (AI). Like you said, we’ve got some new things coming out for this year I’m excited to see in operation. And then maybe, once the election is over, that will take some of the uncertainty away. Maybe we can get back to at least a more level playing field.


I’m going to expand the previous question: Where do you see the Southern Pine and the forest products industry, in 10 years? What do you think the industry will look like?

It’s hard to say because I have these thoughts all the time. I don’t really know, but I would love to see the industry just bloom and blossom and flourish and get into other markets.

You know there are enough trees, which is a big misconception. People think we’re running out of trees and man, there’s enough trees for a lot of players in this industry to make a nice product we can use all around the globe, and I’m a big strong proponent of it.

So, I think with the work you guys and other agencies have done to educate people and to get Southern Yellow Pine in other markets, if that continues to gain momentum, we should be sitting in a very good position and the industry may be demanding more product than we can put out.

Unfortunately, we lost a lot of players during these rough times, but I’d love to see some of those come back, even new players. It’s good to have work for people that enjoy doing this.

Another thing I’d like to see is more young people take an interest and get involved.



The Southern Forest Products Association’s A Cut Above series highlights and introduces to the Southern Pine lumber community and the greater world the amazing people who are part of our community and help keep Southern Pine among the premiere wood species domestically and internationally!