Hill City sawmill shuts down

Gray Hughes

It was announced late  Monday afternoon that after 53 years of operation Neiman Enterprises, Inc. will shut down the sawmill in Hill City in 60 days.

The company said in a release that this decision does not come easily.

“I never thought I would see the day when we would be out of options to keep all our facilities running,” said Jim Neiman, president of Neiman Enterprises, in a release. “Lumber markets have been exceptionally high for the past year and have broken all-time record highs.  The problem here is purely a lack of timber available for purchase in the Black Hills and we rely on the Forest Service for approximately 80 percent of our supply.”

The plant directly employed 120 people and 12 contract crews. Hill City mayor Kathy Skorzewski said around 50 of those individuals live in the Hill City community.

Skorzewski said this is a very impactful decision and is a very sad day for the Hill City community.

She said, too, based on conversations there will be a reduction of logging in the Hill City area.

“This will have a long-term impact,” she said.

She added her heart goes out to all of those impacted by the closure of the mill and that Neiman is “doing what they can” to make the transition easier for those who lost their jobs.

“We need to be supportive as a community and hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “We need to be kind and courteous to those going through the loss of employment.”

The Monday announcement came as some groups have pushed for the reduction in available timber. The company said in a release that there are “severe” consequences associated with that push. This announcement, the company said in its release, illustrates “what is at stake in the Black Hills — our very ability to care for and manage our forests and to support our communities.”

The Neiman Family companies have been operating in the Black Hills for over 85 years under the same family ownership, according to the release. Neiman said that, under its fourth generation of ownership, they have operated under the philosophy of “doing what is best for the long-term.”

“If given the opportunity to purchase timber to keep the mill running we would have done that,” Neiman said in the release. “Keeping the Hill City location running would be in the best interest of the forest and our communities over the long-term.”

Pennington County commissioner Ron Rossknecht said there would be a meeting involving members of the Hill City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the governor’s economic development team to discuss the closure on Tuesday.

“That piece of land will most likely be cleared by the end of the year,” he said.

Rossknecht, who is an appraiser, said the prospect of an empty piece of land carries with it many possibilities including light manufacturing, retail and low-income housing.

It will be the light manufacturing jobs that could possibly come that would make the largest difference, he said.

He and fellow county commissioner Gary Drewes were discussing the prospect of authorizing a discretionary tax formula for infrastructure improvements within Pennington County. A discretionary tax formula would tax a piece of land at 25 percent for the first year and 50 percent for the second year.

Rossknecht said the discretionary tax formula would be ideal for a development at the old sawmill location.

Ben Wudtke, executive director of Black Hills Forest Resource Association, recalled in a release the success the company had fighting the mountain pine beetle within the Black Hills.

However, he added, “Waging those battles took all the forest product companies in the Black Hills to help save our forests. We have just lost some of our ability to win those battles.”

Marcus Neiman, vice president for Neiman Enterprises, said in a release that, “Our family has been committed to doing what’s right for our employees and the forests and communities of the Black Hills, and we remain steadfast in that commitment going forward.”

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