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  • Allen Turner

Delco timber exporting firm will triple in size

By Allen Turner

An Australian-owned timber shipping company that has been operating in Columbus County since January hopes to triple its local operations over the next six months, members of the Columbus Jobs Foundation were told Monday at their annual spring meeting at The Spillway outside Whiteville.

James Harris, chief operating officer of Malec Brothers Transportation Group in Delco, said the company currently has 16 direct employees and indirectly employs another 80 people, such as truck drivers and other subcontractors, and he hopes to see the number of company employees and subcontractors dramatically increase in the next half year.

“I think we’ll be able to do that,” he said, “because we’re replicating a business model that has worked well in Australia and we see no reason it can’t work well here.”

Malec takes timbers and fumigates them for transport overseas. Fumigation is required by a number of countries to make sure the wood is disease free. The timbers are then loaded into land-sea truck containers and taken to a port.

The company headquarters, located about an hour out of Melbourne, Australia, employs 120 staff and utilizes another 200 personnel through subcontractors. The privately held, family-owned firm has been in business in Australia since 1997. Its primary function is to transport shipping containers to ports and ocean freighters.

Harris started with the company 10 years ago, initially working as a receptionist answering telephones, but the business owners recognized his potential and promoted him to general manager. When they decided to expand to the U.S., he was their natural choice to lead the new operation here as chief operations officer.

He moved to Wilmington in September and started the company’s U.S. location but says it quickly became apparent they would need to grow the facility. He found their current location at 1408 Cronly Rd. in Delco and moved the operation on Jan. 31. “Soon after I started looking, it became quite apparent that Columbus County was the place for us to be,” he says.

He received a lot of support from the county’s planning and economic development department headed by Gary Lanier as he was organizing the move from Wilmington to Delco.

The firm moves 200 to 250 shipping containers a week to the port at Wilmington. Those containers are loaded with yellow pine for export to Asia, primarily China and India, for use in construction projects. Although 250 containers a week sounds impressive, Harris says, “That’s not where we need to be. In Australia, we are moving 500 to 600 containers a week, and I envision us doing the same thing in Columbus County very soon.”

A significant portion of the wood product Malec Brothers is shipping to Asia is harvested here in Columbus County, he says.

“We see a lot of potential in this area and we have a lot of future plans,” he said. “In fact, we’ve just secured a facility just across the road from where we are now, and that’s why we’re able to look at increasing our operations threefold in the next six months. We’re looking forward to being here and really expanding. We’re looking for new employees to pack things into containers to be sent all over the world.”

Although he originally planned to remain in the U.S. only temporarily, Harris found he likes it here and has no plans in the near future to permanently return to his native Australia.

And he likes Columbus County. Although he’s temporarily living in Leland, he expects to close next week on the purchase of a house in Lake Waccamaw, where he looks forward to making his home.

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