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Ainsworth shuts down mills in Cook and Bemidji, this time for good

Vancouver-based Ainsworth Lumber Co. announced Tuesday that it would permanently close its oriented strand board mills in Cook and Bemidji.

The Cook mill had not operated for a year, and the Bemidji mill curtailed operations in October.

Both mills were acquired by Ainsworth in 2004 as part of the acquisition of the OSB business of Potlatch Corp. Ainsworth's third Minnesota mill at Grand Rapids, which the company also bought from Potlatch in 2004, was per-manently closed in August.

OSB panels are used like plywood in home construction.

"We made this very difficult decision to permanently close our other two facilities in Minnesota following a re-view of their ability to be competitive over the longer term," said Rick Huff, the president and CEO of Ainsworth.

Huff said the outlook for U.S. housing does not warrant making the investments that would be required to make the two mills economically viable.

Ainsworth is anticipating spending about $7 million for worker severance packages for the 280 workers and other costs related to permanently shuttering the mills.

When the Bemidji plant was originally closed, the company also blamed its problems on recent struggles to ob-tain credit to buy timber, which continues to steadily increase in price despite the economic downturn.

Ainsworth's three board mills in Canada continue to run at full capacity.