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Former Trus Joist execs bring firm back to Boise

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, right, congratulates Harold
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, right, congratulates Harold "Red" Thomas, co-founder of Trus Joist International, on the launch of a new firm, RedBuilt, launched Wednesday by a group of former Trus Joist executives who purchased the commercial division of Trus Joist back from Weyerhauser, which bought Trus Joist in 2000. RedBuilt will be headquartered in Boise. (Betsy Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

BOISE - A landmark Boise timber products company is returning to Idaho’s capital city - kind of.

A group of former executives of Trus Joist Corp., along with Atlas Holdings LLC, has purchased the commercial division of Trus Joist from Weyerhaeuser, its current owner, and will headquarter their new firm in Boise.

The new firm is being called “RedBuilt,” in tribute to Trus Joist co-founder Harold “Red” Thomas and the company he built. Thomas is among the investors in the new firm.

“We’re back in Boise because we think this is the place it belongs, and we have a team that can make it go,” Thomas declared Wednesday. “It makes me feel 40 years younger, because that’s where we started this company in 1960.”

Trus Joist pioneered a type of engineered lumber that revolutionized the wood products industry. Thomas, who was a wholesale lumber salesman, and architect Art Troutner started the company with $8,000, some machinery and an old barn, and the idea that “we’ve got to have something better than a 2-by-4,” Thomas said. “Art called me in one day and said, ‘I’ve got this idea.’ … We created a whole new industry of laminated veneer lumber.”

When Trus Joist was purchased by Weyerhaeuser in 1990, it was a Fortune 500 company with annual revenues nearing $1 billion.

Times aren’t so good for the wood products industry these days, the new firm’s executives acknowledged, with the recession crimping construction, but they’re confident anyway. “We’ve got a great leadership team here, most of whom were in key leadership positions with this company during the ‘80s and ‘90s,” said Tom Denig, the new board chairman for RedBuilt and a former Trus Joist Corp. CEO.

Said Kurt Liebich, who headed the division at Weyerhauser before signing on as RedBuilt’s new president and CEO, “We couldn’t be more pleased about bringing this company back to Idaho.”

The new firm employs 234 people, including 32 in Boise, all of whom already worked in Boise for Weyerhauser. The remainder work at four manufacturing plants and 13 design and sales offices around the country. Products include composite wood-and-steel open-web trusses, engineered wood I-joists, engineered lumber including laminated veneer lumber, project engineering, and related services.

Liebich said he expects the Boise operation to expand, with likely expansions in design and engineering, and in corporate functions including legal and accounting. Previously, Weyerhauser handled those functions in Seattle. Overall, the firm is hoping to grow its business by 15 percent a year for the next five to 10 years, and it may look at acquisitions or development of new product lines.

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick, a former Trus Joist CEO, said the company’s leaders were “the reason I came to Idaho 35 years ago,” launching a 21-year career with the firm. “It was a fabulous, fabulous company,” Minnick said. “Small businesses create 70 percent of the jobs in this country, and what this country needs right now is jobs.”

Trus Joist was known for referring to its employees as “associates,” recognizing them for their work, and giving them a stake in the company’s performance. When Minnick headed the company, workers owned a third of the stock, and voted on what benefits to add when company profits were up and what to cut when times were tough.

Gov. Butch Otter, after congratulating Thomas on the new firm, said, “I just indicated to Red Thomas that I appreciate his leap of faith - twice. … I’ve got every confidence with the talented people that they’ve been able to attract back to their industry, that they’re going to be just as successful solving our 21st Century building problems as they were in the last century.”

Weyerhaeuser will retain the Trus Joist brand for its residential building products, while the RedBuilt name will go on engineered wood products for the commercial, industrial and multifamily markets.

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