International Veneer & Timber
By Mike Monte
Tim Sprink received a forestry education at UW-Stevens Point, graduating in 1989. He grew up in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, a kid who had a liking for the outdoors. Forestry seemed to be the way to spend his working life in the outdoors.
He found that when he graduated with his new diploma in hand, it was hard to get a job in the public sector, like the Forest Service. So he took a job with a private company. He knows now that he would never have like the bureaucracy associated with a government agency.
His first job was with Northwest Hardwoods in Onalaska, Wisconsin. He worked as a log scaler in the mill yard. After only a year, the mill closed. Everyone was laid off except him. He was transferred to Cadott, Wisconsin, where he worked for two years handling the veneer market and yard scaling. He was then promoted and went to Dorchester, Wisconsin at the TK&W installation. There, he dealt in red oak that was quarter sawed. He spent his time on the road, buying quality red oak. Then, he took a job for Besse that lasted two years. He went back to work for Northwest until 1998 and then made a big move.
He moved to Missouri and settled in a little town called Frohna. He made another big move. He married a Missouri girl who was part of a sawmill family. Tim started a business exporting high quality veneer and sawlogs. He made another big change when he made a deal with starting IVT to be partners in the business of high quality veneer.
The business needed some species that weren't common in Missouri that included red oak, maple, basswood, white ash and birdseye and curly maple. There was a market for these species, and his home state of Wisconsin was where they were found. He located a spot near Wabeno, Wisconsin, on Hwy 32 and built a buying yard where these species were common. IVT does their buying from the Wabeno yard from about Hwy 29 north to and including the Upper Peninsula.
Veneer is the core of his business, but IVT does buy some sawlogs if there is a market. He said that white ash is a good example of sawlogs they buy if the quality is there, and most species are strong. At the present time, he could use more veneer. He stated that the market is there for quality veneer logs. Currently, he could also use ash sawlogs.
I asked Tim if the covid pandemic had affected his business. He said that covid hasn't hurt the export market. China is quite active with their covid infections held down. Domestic veneer sales have taken a drop of about 25% because of the covid pandemic.
Tim and his IVT company do business over a global span. He credits modern communications with making this job quite a bit easier. He pointed to his cell phone and said he was now connected to the world with this one implement. He talked of the days when the fax machine was a great improvement, but with the ability to talk worldwide from a phone in his pocket and the internet, doing business around the globe became easier.
The company does have a wide reach. Tim said this is actually a partnership that involves 15 IVT employees between Wisconsin and Missouri and IVC, which is the International Veneer Company. It is called the IVC Group and totals more than 225 combined employees world wide.
There is a long reach with this partnership. This includes 12 log buyers in the eastern United States. They work out of their homes, and cover the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and northern Arkansas on a weekly basis.
Last year, this wide-spanning company bought 10 million board feet of high quality logs. Of this amount, roughly 5 million board feet went for export and the other 5 million was used domestically. The domestic purchases also fed their veneer mill in Jackson City, Pennsylvania. They also own and operate a veneer mill in Germany. As Tim says, they have to concentrate on business.
This is truly a complicated business. Of course, all concerned have to possess a broad knowledge of the logs they are dealing with. Tim says that all species have their niche in the market place, and from the wood buyer on up the chain all must know and be able to recognize wood quality of the region they are working.
Another aspect of the export veneer business that is time consuming and takes expertise is logistics. When logs are shipped to various places around the world, getting them to the market takes trucking, often rail, and getting them loaded on a ship. The ship has to be unloaded at the destination port and the logs transported to the customer. Tim said the paper work can be enormous, and some documents can reach the 50 page mark. It obviously took some time to learn all of the aspects of this business!
The ITV headquarters near Wabeno is a hole in the woods turned into a landing with the room to stack and sort logs. In many cases, the logs are “stacked” one high, so they can be looked at from all sides. Obviously, there is equipment needed to handle and sort and possibly load logs as well. There is a comfortable office building nestled under the trees on the edge of the landing and some necessary outbuildings for storage and parking machinery.
Tim is busy at a desk with phone and computer in a nicely appointed office. Wife Natalie is also in her office working on the paper work needed to run the business efficiently. There is another helper in the office. Tim's golden lab, Max, is there to greet you when you enter the office and works hard to make you feel at home. His job is obviously customer relations.
When the interview for this story was done, Tim's son William was putting in his first week working in the yard. He has just graduated with a degree in business, and it appears that he is learning the export veneer business beginning in the yard. This makes sense if he is to learn what these various species of logs have to look like to qualify as export raw material. Kevin Belland also works in the log yard. Kevin scales logs, keeps track of inventory and also loads trucks. He has likely inherited another job, which is teaching William the tricks of the trade. On the day of the visit, log buyers Ben Sobczak and Shannon Underwood were also on the premises.
Doing this story and looking at the logs in the yard brought back memories of my logging days when there were so many in the logging business who didn't cut and sort their logs by grade. IVT has brought a market to the Northwoods that I would guess many loggers overlook, and if they do, it is to their detriment. Knowing what makes an export veneer log and bringing them to market can add to the bottom line of a logging business. This can be important in a sagging pulpwood market.