MCCOMB — The timber industry is an important part of the economic landscape of Southwest Mississippi, and the Montalvo family has played a role in that industry for 37 years. As owners of McComb Diesel, Harvest Haul and Timber Transport, they’re growing and see a bright future for the area’s leading industry.
“The forest industry is one of the state’s top industries and this area depends on it,” says Frankie Montalvo, who works with his dad, Ray, in the thriving businesses. “We’ve made an investment in it and will see continued growth. As long as the South evolves, the industry will continue to be good. It’s migrating this way.”
The family’s stake in this industry began when Ray Montalvo escaped from his native Cuba after spending 21 months in dictator Fidel Castro’s prison after the Bay of Pigs invasion.
“I can’t return to Cuba,” he says with a wry laugh, “because there’s a price on my head.”
Not one to look back, the 76-year-old refugee says he’s realized the American dream. “What other place could I have gone in the world and done this?” he said. “I built a future for myself and family here and I have enjoyed life here.”
Montalvo first went to New Orleans where he worked for Coca-Cola and later Detroit Diesel, a job that took him all over Louisiana. He wanted to be in business for himself with Detroit Diesel but had to choose a location other than New Orleans for his dealership. McComb, just over the state line, beckoned and McComb Diesel was born in 1969.
The class A heavy-duty truck dealer services and repairs large engines, transmissions and axles, employing 20 people.
His wife, Edie, says the hauling companies are a natural progression for McComb Diesel and credits Frankie as the catalyst for the burgeoning operation when Weyerhaeuser Paper Company came to them with the concept.
“They asked us about hauling logs as a pilot program and it has really taken off,” she said. “Harvest Haul is a dedicated Weyerhaeuser hauler with over 100 drivers.”
The drivers haul timber within an approximate 100-mile radius to Weyerhaeuser’s Louisiana mills in Holden, Bogalusa and Fernwood. The idea — a system developed by Ray Montalvo — is to take care of the hauling so timber growers can use their expertise for what they do best.
“That is part of Ray’s vision and he’s always looking at different avenues,” Edie Montalvo said. “Harvest Haul is growing so fast, we’re having growing pains and that’s why we’re looking for a financial person.”
She said the company is looking for a strong vice president of finance, a full charge CFO person with an accounting background who has worked in the business world and can take over.
The other hauler is Timber Transport, a timber hauler for Georgia-Pacific Paper Company’s plants in Port Hudson, Monticello, Roxie and Gloster along with the Kentwood, La., chip mill and some area wood dealers. This hauling company currently has 15 drivers. Harvest Haul and Timber Transport are wholly-owned subsidiaries of McComb Diesel.
Frankie Montalvo is optimistic about the health of the timber industry but says it obviously had a big setback from Hurricane Katrina. “Over billions of dollars worth of timber was lost by private tree farmers and company timberlands, and that includes our friends and neighbors,” he said. “It is recuperating but it will take a while. The companies continue to move their assets around to recover.”
He feels Weyerhaeuser and Georgia Pacific have both done an unprecedented job of getting back to work with goals of establishing stability and making a concrete stand for the area and the industry. The Montalvo companies are also heavily involved in the recovery process.
“Everyone did everything they could to recover. Good timber was lost as it lay on the ground, and the industry was quick to recover this high-value inventory with an eight-month recovery plan,” Ray said. “A few years of raw timber materials supply meant a flood of inventory that went into the market. That made prices go down for finished lumber, but with the Gulf Coast and New Orleans rebuilding, there should be a dramatic increase in the demand to boost sales.”
Rising fuel costs do play a role in the industry’s ongoing recovery and Ray is pleased with the development of alternative fuels. “Fuel prices are just one of the things of concern to the industry and that’s unrelated to Katrina,” he said. “We all adjust and move with it. It’s the nature of the business to haul within a 100-mile radius of mills.”
Ray Montalvo also sees a bright future for the timber industry. “There is so much to haul and both the companies can grow together,” he said. “We can keep the costs of hauling down this way.”
Blessed with good health, the elder Montalvo works every day and plans to keep on doing so as he continues living the American dream with his two sons, two daughters and six grandchildren. He and Edie married in 1998 and he hopes her two sons will work with the family, too.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.
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