Where to start? 2020 will undoubtedly go down in history as a year most people would like to forget. One steeped in uncertainty, fear, anger, and division and marked by tragic and terrible events. It has tested communities, workplaces, healthcare systems, personal relationships, and the social fabric that connects us all. It will likely take us years to fully realize the impact this year has had both socially and economically. For the past several years, I’ve written an end-of-year blog, summarizing our accomplishments and challenges. While I find it difficult to process all that has occurred this year let alone articulate it, here are some of my reflections on 2020 and the year ahead.
The pandemic and associated restrictions to daily life have been hard on us all. Like most businesses in the natural resources sector, Hampton has remained largely operational during these difficult times, though we have had to make significant changes to help keep people safe. I could not be more proud of how our employees have risen to the challenge. In Portland, most employees have been teleworking since March with great success. At our manufacturing facilities, we’ve adopted governmental guidelines and implemented new protocols and a tracing program to help prevent infections from spreading in the workplace. While we have had COVID-19 cases at most of our locations, spread has been limited and, thankfully, all of our employees have recovered.
Unfortunately, many of the businesses that contribute to the quality of life in our communities—particularly those in leisure and hospitality—have struggled greatly. Food and housing insecurity has increased as more and more people find themselves out of work. In addition to our regular giving programs, Hampton has significantly increased our charitable donations to support COVID-19 relief activities in our communities. We’ve purchased gift cards from local restaurants and made donations to local food banks, senior centers, and rental assistance programs. In Tillamook County, Hampton is a proud sponsor of a broadband access program, helping to connect rural students who lack good internet access for online learning. Sawmill employees have also continued their community giving efforts, supporting Adopt-a-Family and other youth programs.
COVID-19 is, of course, just one of many challenges we faced this year. With summer came heightened tensions in communities across the U.S. resulting from systemic racism. Protests that erupted in the wake of the appalling treatment and subsequent death of George Floyd at the hands of police led many, myself included, to reflect on the inequalities that exist in our society. This fall, a group of volunteers in our Portland office formed a Social Justice Team to examine ways Hampton can help people of color in the Portland area and promote diversity and anti-racism within our own company. Hampton’s focus on anti-racism, diversity, and equity is a long-term commitment and I look forward to the team’s insight and recommendations in the years to come.
And then came September and wildfire. While wildfires are increasing in size, frequency, and severity throughout the West, the Labor Day fires were an important reminder that all forests are vulnerable, even those in wetter areas west of the Cascades. Lives, livelihoods, homes and infrastructure were lost in these tragic fires. Hampton was fortunate in that our lands were spared, but many of our neighbors were not so lucky. Unsurprisingly, our industry played an important role in the wildfire response and recovery efforts. Foresters and loggers formed ad hoc firefighting crews and worked alongside state forestry and emergency managers to help protect their communities. Hampton supported fellow landowners with fire trucks. These volunteer efforts more than doubled the Oregon Department of Forestry’s firefighting capacity.
The Labor Day fires serve as a tragic reminder of the importance of forest management, before and after fire. Private timberland owners who suffered wildfire losses are moving forward with restoration, which involves removing burnt timber and replanting. State forest managers are also offering limited restoration timber sales. Mills can recover lumber from burnt timber and some salvaged logs are already making their way to our Oregon facilities.
In spite of the difficulties and the uncertainty, I’m pleased to say that Hampton has weathered 2020 remarkably well. Demand for wood products remained high, driven largely by home centers and a surge in home improvement projects. It is good to see that single-family home construction demand is finally back to the levels we saw prior to the Great Recession. I remain confident that as vaccines become more widely available and COVID-19 risk abates in the coming months, pent up demand for travel, dining, and other service will lead to a very strong economy in 2021.
Despite the political divisiveness that dominated state and national headlines, there were remarkable acts of bi-partisan cooperation on forest policy this year. In Washington, legislators passed a Forest Sector Carbon bill that recognizes the carbon benefits of the forest industry. In Oregon, Hampton and a dozen other forestland owners formed an agreement with environmental groups to establish common sense reforms related to a number of contentious issues. This agreement resulted in legislation that included expanded water quality protections and mandated development of a real-time notification system for forest herbicide applications—the first of its kind in the nation. Over the next year, signatories to this agreement will examine opportunities to develop additional protections for vulnerable aquatic species on private forestland. I’m proud of our involvement in this historic agreement and hope the cooperative atmosphere around forest policy continues long into the future.
So while we have endured countless challenges, the year has also been punctuated by innovation, enlightenment, resilience, and remarkable acts of kindness and service to community. I’ve been inspired by the acts of generosity and understanding exhibited both within the company and in the communities in which we operate. We surely have more difficult months ahead, but I know we will get through the challenges that confront us today and come out stronger on the other side.
Best wishes for a safe and happy New Year!
Steve Zika, CEO