Robinson’s firm honored by ERC
Figuring he could do the job better, Lowell Robinson switched from being a hay-baler contractor to being a timber feller in 1948.
Now, local workers are $6 million a year richer – the amount of his company’s annual payroll.
The Nevada City company now known as Robinson Enterprises has grown to employ 229 people during its peak season, with revenues of $20 million last year.
Robinson Enterprises was honored Tuesday with the Economic Resource Council’s Quarterly Community Appreciation Award during a breakfast at the Holbrooke Hotel.
Tuesday was proclaimed Robinson Inc. Day in Nevada City, said Mayor David McKay.
The company had modest beginnings when Robinson, a Penn Valley native, observed a timber harvest on his grandfather’s ranch.
“I happened to be a hay-baler contractor. I had a half-track (vehicle) and another Army truck, and I said, ‘Well, if he could do that with a six-by-six, I could do it better with a half-track,'” said Robinson.
Robinson hooked a boom up to his half-track military vehicle and entered the timber business.
He brought in family members as the business grew. He expanded into petroleum, hazardous-waste cleanup and the gravel aggregate business. He continued to take on new people, including Joe Griggs Sr. and Ed Walker, who now help run the business.
“We just kept expanding in any direction that would almost make a dollar,” quipped Robinson, the company’s president.
Now, the company owns 100 pieces of off-highway equipment. Robinson said it will keep expanding into areas where it can use its equipment.
“We think we’re equipment people,” he said. “We like to operate equipment. We think we know how to get the job done.”
The timber business is different from when Robinson started. It’s now heavily regulated, with a decline in statewide timber harvesting that the industry attributes to less logging in the national forests.
Workers’ compensation bills will hit $1 million a year for the company. Regulations make it increasingly costly to operate in California, Robinson said.
And environmental protesters chain themselves to trees to protest logging now, including a tree-sitting set for this week in Sierra County.
That’s frustrating for Robinson, 73, who views the protesters as extremists.
Things might be turning around for the timber industry after President Bush announced a plan last week to ease restrictions on logging in national forests.
The aim is to reduce the threat of wildfires by reducing the buildup of brush and small trees – fuel for the flames.
Donn Zea, president of the California Forest Products Commission, said it will be companies like Robinson that reduce the fire hazard.
“We’re surrounded by national forest, a lot of it in serious condition,” said Zea. “It’s going to be people like Robinson on the front lines, fighting the problem.”
Environmentalists say Bush’s plan is a smoke screen, designed to open the forests to more logging.
Zea said public opinion is starting to come around, recognizing that there is a problem with wildfires in the West.
And there’s nothing like a half million-acre wildfire – like the one Zea flew over in Oregon recently – to make the point.
“If you fly over a half million acres of devastation, it’s compelling,” he said.
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