A Cut Above With Mark Richardson

Mark Richardson

Before taking over as executive vice president of wood products at The Westervelt Company in January 2023, Mark Richardson had served in several sales function roles with the Alabama-based lumber manufacturer for more than 20 years or so. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native, who still lives there with his wife, graduated from the University of Alabama and has a daughter who is a sophomore at Auburn University, “so, you know, there’s a little infighting there.” He’s also a current board member and past board chairman with SFPA!


Share a little about what you’re doing at Westervelt and what role the company plays in the greater Southern Pine lumber community.

We operated as Gulf States Paper Corp. for many decades before changing our name to The Westervelt Company in the mid-2000s. We’ve been around in the pulp, paper, and forest products industry for more than 100 years. We’re currently in our fifth generation, so we’re a long-standing company committed to doing things the right way, operationally in the forest, very geared toward sustainability.

We have two Southern Pine sawmills in Moundville and Thomasville, Alabama, and we own a fair amount of timberland in the South, primarily in Alabama, with some in Mississippi, Georgia, and through the Carolinas and Virginia. So, we’re pretty entrenched in the forest products industry in the South.


What do you want people to know about Southern Pine lumber? What do you want them to take away about why it’s good, why they should use it, and why it’s one of the premier species for building materials?

There are several things. One is performance in the field; the strength factors of the product are excellent. It’s available in a multitude of dimensions for multiple applications. You’ll see a lot of it in the pressure-treated industry for outdoor use, as well as building components for structural construction.

From a forest standpoint, Southern Pine forests are very sustainable. We manage our forest to two certifications – Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) – and follow very strict standards around water conservation to protect forest regeneration and regrowth to keep the forest healthy. Without that, we wouldn’t be here.


You talk about the economics of it and how it supports the community. I mean, you’re from those communities, Mark, right? And sustainability is such a huge part of that. Talk a little bit more about Westervelt’s role in sustainability, its commitment, and its process.

It’s survival for us. We’re very active in the communities we operate in, which are in rural America. We look at the economic impact we can have on those regions through direct and indirect employment, and then the environmental impact we have by the way we operate, whether that’s out of our mills or in the forest.

If we don’t, if we don’t do all those things right, we don’t have much of a future. It’s the core of what we do.


What is it about the lumber, the Southern pine community? What, what keeps you going?

A lot of it is the people. Whether you’re talking about your customers, your suppliers, or your peers, you’re going to be dealing with good people with a common goal – to sustain our industry and do what’s best for our industry.

A lot of that goes back to the forest and how we operate, how we treat people, how we treat our employees, suppliers, and customers.

Then just our story again around environmental sustainability, the carbon sequestration. There’s a great story there and something we can all be proud of.


It’s a story we can’t tell enough, honestly, and we hear it domestically and internationally with a lot of the tradeshows we do to promote Southern Pine around the world.

You were talking about suppliers, buyers, and everyone involved in the process. What are you hearing from buyers about Southern Pine? What are you getting in terms of questions or comments?

Right now, specifically for Southern Pine, there are a lot of growth opportunities. The capacity of Southern Pine lumber has grown over the past few years, so we’re seeing some markets respond to that.

There are some exciting things happening in the mass timber market. It’s been exciting to see CLT continue to grow its position in some applications of building. Then geographic expansion of the product, seeing our product stretch further.

There’s a lot to be excited about from the Southern Pine aspect.


That’s great to know because you know we discuss how we plant more trees than we harvest, so knowing the supply we have creates a great future for our industry.

So, what are you hoping for in the back half of 2024? What are you looking forward to?

Our market conditions are what they are, and we’re in a bit of a cycle downturn. What we’re focusing on is making sure we sustain through this, that we keep our employees safe. We need to continue to invest in opportunities to keep our employees safe and healthy and keep our operations healthy through this.

I hope to see a little improvement in market conditions in the second half of the year, but listening to the news right now you get mixed signals. We just have to control what we can control.


Whether it’s sustainability or the demand for lumber use, we know we’re not going anywhere. There’s always a silver lining, right? So, pull out your crystal ball. Where do you see the forest products industry and specifically the Southern Pine lumber community, in the next 10 years-plus?

We’ll continue to see market opportunities for Southern Pine. We have associations like SFPA and others doing great work promoting our product and what we have to offer, and we’ll continue to see dividends from that.

From an operation standpoint, you’ll also see us continue to embrace emerging technologies. A lot of people don’t think about our industry as being somewhere where you can go see robotics, artificial intelligence, condition monitoring, and that kind of thing.

I think you’ll see us continue to evolve with technology and become more efficient and better operators.


That automation is just amazing, and there are some really impressive things going on in our industry.

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!