Conifex's Brett Bray Assures 'Good Balance' Won't Leave Arkansas, Canada Dry

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 12:00 am   2 min read

Brett Bray | Vice President of U.S. Operations for Conifex Timber Inc. (Kerry Prichard)

Conifex Timber Inc. of Vancouver, Canada, named Brett Bray vice president of U.S. operations in August. He oversees the company’s facilities in Glenwood, El Dorado and Cross City, Florida. Bray has nearly 30 years of experience in the timber industry and previously worked for Caddo River Forest Products, as general manager of the Glenwood facility. He is a graduate of Arkansas State University and the executive management program at Louisiana State University. Bray also volunteers with the Boys & Girls Club and coaches youth football, basketball and baseball.

Bray began his career with an entry-level position at a paper mill in Pine Bluff.

We’ve reported that transportation shortages have hurt the timber industry. Are you feeling that in your facilities?
I have worked in Arkansas for almost 30 years, and I have certainly witnessed the lumber shipments becoming much less predictable and reliable. While the nation is facing a shortage of truck drivers, Conifex has a subsidiary called Navcor that specializes in transportation logistics, which helps mitigate the challenges.

How will the United States’ new trade agreement with Canada affect the timber industry in general and Conifex, a Canadian company, in particular?
Trade in softwood lumber was not included in the old NAFTA agreement, nor is it included in the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which will replace NAFTA. Softwood lumber is covered under a separate agreement, which is currently being negotiated between Canada and the U.S. Conifex has half its production in Canada and half in the U.S., which provides a good balance.

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Has lumber demand reached pre-recession levels? And, if not, when do you expect that to happen?
Lumber demand in the U.S. has not yet reached pre-recession levels because U.S. housing starts are only running at a rate of 1.25 million annual units, versus 2 million-plus at the previous peak. However, housing forecasters expect demand to grow given the population growth in the U.S. South and the demographic of young people wanting to move to single-family homes. The U.S. supply region has gained market share from other supply regions, and the U.S. South production is running at record levels.

Why did the money behind Conifex see the Arkansas mills as a good investment?
There were three main drivers to investing here in Arkansas. The first was that the mills have access to good, consistent volumes of quality sawtimber at an affordable cost. Second was the mills’ proximity to the strong Texas housing market, reducing transportation costs to get our products to our customers. Third was the supportive business and investment climate in the state of Arkansas, both at state and local levels.

What are the prospects for more Conifex acquisitions in Arkansas?
Conifex intends to invest additional capital at its two present locations here in Arkansas to ensure their competitiveness and sustainability. We are also open to establishing more locations in the state, either through acquisition or greenfield construction. We see a bright future for our Arkansas facilities.



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