Lumber shortage causes issues for Wichita businesses

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Shortages in lumber and skyrocketing prices are causing issues for some Wichita businesses.

As you look around the lumberyard at Mill Creek Lumber, it looks a little empty.

“We typically have a 30 to 45 day supply of material, we’re in the three to five day supply of material,” said Jay Robinson with Mill Creek Lumber.

Historically, high prices and shortages are holding up business for some customers.

“We’ve had to do a lot of substituting,” said Robinson. “We’ve had to do a lot of scrambling. There have been a lot of job sites that have been waiting on material whether it’s been framing lumber or decking material or siding material. We’ve had sporadic shortages, sporadic outages.”

It’s not just suppliers or lumber companies feeling the impact, either. Smaller, family-owned businesses like Wichita Fence Company said they are also taking a big hit, putting them weeks behind on some fencing jobs.

“All of us have families, and we’re just trying to survive,” said Maggie Walker with Wichita Fence Company. “We’re not trying to make millions, we’re just trying to get by.”

Employees said larger companies in Wichita are buying out most of the local lumber, forcing some owners to choose between paying bills and ordering more inventory. If they choose to order more, Walker said they have to hope they get jobs to use the inventory for.

‘They have more buying power than we do,” said Walker. “I have to pay my employees so I have to juggle whether I’m going to buy three units of wood or eight units of wood. I can only buy so much at a time.”

The businesses are working to tackle these issues while trying to determine the exact source of all the stress.

“From hurricanes shutting mills down, to the wildfires in the west affecting lumber production, rail car shortages in Canada, you go on and on and on,” said Robinson. “If anything can go wrong in our industry, it’s gone wrong in 2020.”

Robinson said the pandemic also plays a role in all of this. He said many of his suppliers, which are big production plants, experienced several COVID-19 cases forcing them to shut down for some time. He said people wanting to build new homes and update their current homes has also impacted the supply of lumber and other materials.

Businesses said they are expecting lumber prices to stay this high for quite some time, but developers said they don’t see it affecting the number of people wanting to build new homes or buy lumber for projects.

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