Cuba deal worth $ 2.5 million
Swift Lumber benefits from agricultural trade
By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
The 32-year-old trade embargo against Cuba has been lifted for agricultural products and a local company has stepped in to fill the void in lumber.
Swift Lumber has an agreement with the government of Cuba to sell 4.5 million feet of lumber. It is valued at $2.5 million and will be divided between construction grade and millwork grade product. Millwork lumber is used for paneling, doors and windows and other high-grade wood products.
"We thought we were just the hometown sawmill, but we got a nice order from Cuba," said company president Robin Swift.
"Seriously, we are excited about the opportunity this market brings, not only to us, but to the southern pine industry as a whole."
Swift said the company had been working on the project behind the scenes for about six months, and he believes the leg up the company has is in part due to its location.
"One advantage we have is our proximity to Mobile, which gives us a shipping advantage some other companies may not have," Swift said.
Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture Ron Sparks traveled to Cuba last week.
"The goal of this trade mission is to establish an ongoing working relationship with Cuba…and to seek opportunities for the commercial exchange of Alabama agricultural goods and products," Sparks said in a press release concerning the trip.
Additionally he said that prospective purchases must be handled on a cash basis.
"We already have the credit guarantees in place," Swift said of the trade with the Cuban government.
The company has been sawing lumber in Atmore since the mid-1920s, first as Swift-Hunter, and later became Swift Lumber in the mid-1950s. There are 145 employees.
"This is a new market and new opportunity," Swift said. He said the new contract is more marketing than a production challenge.
"We already have the capacity in place, and this is not going to be a problem for us."
Some containers of sample product have already been sent to the island nation some 627 miles southeast of Mobile. The first shipment of the new contract should load out of the port in a few weeks.
According to Sparks' office, Cuban officials also agreed to buy cattle, cotton and poultry from Alabama producers.