Canada-based timber manufacturer Structurlam Mass Timber Corp. is suspending operations at its Conway facility and laying off 144 workers after losing Walmart Inc. as a client.
Structurlam CEO Matthew Karmel said a team of 24 employees has been retained to maintain the $90 million facility, which opened in 2021, while it seeks new business.
Walmart had an exclusive agreement with the plant to produce mass timber for the retail giant's new 2.4 million-SF home office in Bentonville. In a statement, Walmart said it will "continue to seek alternate sources of mass timber for the project" and will use "as much material from our home state of Arkansas as feasible."
"While this is a disappointing outcome that impacts many parties," Walmart said, referring to the plant pausing operations, "we are proud of the significant financial and operational support Walmart has provided Structurlam since 2019."
Structurlam did not disclose the value of the Walmart deal, citing a confidentiality agreement. But now that it's released from the contract, the 288,000-SF facility has available production capacity of more than 1 million cubic feet annually for Glulam and cross-laminated timber, or CLT, products. The latter product has been growing in popularity in the U.S. and Europe.
Karmel said Structurlam will "work diligently to identify new solutions for putting this facility to good use, as it represents an important step in our North American growth strategy."
"Demand for mass timber in North America is currently far outpacing supply and that is projected to be the case for many years to come," he said. "In Arkansas specifically, only two trees are harvested for every three trees planted, so the state continues to promote a very healthy timber supply.
"While I can’t share any specific customer names, we have had to turn down business due to being constrained by the exclusive agreement. We’re now re-engaging with those prospects to explore opportunities to support their growth plans."
Karmel didn't have a timeline for when production might resume.
Structurlam said it chose to make Conway the focus of its U.S. expansion because of the city's proximity to Arkansas forestland. The plant, a former Nucor Fastener facility, is located close to transportation corridors that Structurlam said reach "large southern and eastern markets."
The company also cited a site-ready location and available workforce.
Plant manager Jody Doak said, "We are grateful for the contributions and hard work of the Conway employees and we anticipate the prospect of welcoming them back with new customer projects."