Dixie County lost one of its largest employers in the 2007-2008 recession, a Georgia Pacific (GP) Lumber facility. The mill remained closed for over 10 years located on highly-traveled US 19 in Cross City as a sad reminder to Dixie County and surrounding counties workers of better times. In 2017, an owner of two sawmills in Georgia received a notice of an auction that was to take place at the old GP sawmill to auction off as much of the equipment as possible before placing the old mill property up For Sale. The Georgia owner with over 25 years’ experience in the sawmill industry saw it as an opportunity to purchase affordable equipment. He traveled to Cross City to evaluate the equipment but instead decided to purchase the entire sawmill. Since finalizing the purchase of the former Georgia-Pacific mill in Cross City, the company began restoration of the plant’s buildings, laydown yards, roads, and equipment. The new owner has since purchased millions of dollars of new state-of-the-art equipment to meet the growing demands of his existing customers and those created by the recovering housing market. Early on he made an interesting observation; the Cross City Lumber, LLC (CCL) location is the southern-most sawmill in the U.S. This unique feature is noteworthy because south Florida was and still going through a huge housing boom.
The North Florida Economic Development Partnership (NFEDP) supported the Cross City Lumber economic development project in Dixie County through technical assistance and facilitating state incentives. Additionally, the NFEDP provides marketing through the NFEDP website, www.nflp.org, which maintains a database of available economic development properties throughout the 14 counties within the North Florida Rural Area of Opportunity (RAO).
The new owner invested millions in renovating and restoring existing buildings, repairing, and upgrading existing equipment. The initial number of newly created jobs was anticipated to be approximately 65, but by late 2018 the company not only met that goal but exceeded it. In Spring 2019, CCL had grown to 96 jobs of which the majority are Dixie County residents. By 2019 it was recognized the demand for lumber had continued and more modern computerized equipment was needed. By this time, Daniel Dickert, former owner-operator of Suwannee Lumber, had become a partner in Cross City Lumber, LLC. He had sold the family-owned Suwannee Lumber Company and now became the partner and full-time COO of Cross City Lumber, LLC.
Dickert had a lifetime of experience in modernizing the family-owned sawmill and understood the need to remain competitive in the industry. The lumber/timber industry in the NFEDP counties has historically been a “Wood Basket” for over 100 years and has consistently been a natural resource to sustain many industries throughout the 14-county region. Existing assets and structures complemented by the expansive list of new and updated equipment installed late 2020 required created 6 new specialized positions. The 6 new jobs required computerized equipment operators and computer technicians to maintain and repair the new equipment. Cross City Lumber LLC’s annual payroll is projected to be $5.5 million in a very rural county which ranks 64 out of Florida’s 67 counties based on distress factors.
It is important to note that as with any industry modernization, there will be some positions eliminated due to upgrades from manual labor to computerized equipment. However, due to careful planning and reconfiguration of the sawmill’s workforce while keeping a strong focus on retention of existing employees, management will have created 6 new high-wage jobs and retained 20 of their current employees and most importantly provide sustainability for Dixie County’s economy and workforce.