Big River Group unveils major upgrades to Grafton timber factory, boosting local employment and supply to the construction industry

Posted on April 3, 2024

Big River Group, a leader in diversified manufacturing and distribution of timber and building products, is proud to announce the completion of a significant upgrade to its Grafton timber factory. This $22 million project, supported by the Australian and New South Wales (NSW) Governments under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, marks a pivotal advancement in the sustainable manufacturing of specialty technical timber products, enhancing supply to the construction industry across NSW.

Founded in Grafton over 100 years ago, Big River Group has navigated through three generations of the Pidcock family’s ownership before transitioning to a public entity listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX:BRI) in May 2017. This evolution marks a century of commitment and growth within the region, now operating across 26 sites in Australia and New Zealand.

Officially opening today, the Grafton operation underscores the importance for regional development and sustainable practices within the industry. It highlights the government’s commitment to supporting industries that are crucial for recovery and growth in areas affected by bushfires, promoting advancements in sustainable timber manufacturing and supply.

The upgrade, which includes the installation of state-of-the-art machinery is set to substantially increase Big River’s output. This enhancement enables Big River to supply an unprecedented volume of timber products throughout NSW each year, fostering growth in the local and regional economies.

John Lorente, CEO of Big River Group, expressed his enthusiasm for the project’s completion: “This upgrade signifies not just an expansion of our operational capacity, but a commitment to innovation, sustainability, and the future of a timber industry in NSW. With the support of the Forestry Recovery Development Fund Program, we are poised to make a significant impact on the availability of high-quality timber products, while also securing and creating jobs locally, regionally and nationally.”

The upgrade is anticipated to create 20 new jobs in Grafton, adding to Big River’s existing local workforce and its 610 employees nationally. This development highlights Big River’s long-standing commitment to fostering local talent through trainee and apprenticeship programs, and contributing financially to local businesses by drawing on logistics, warehousing, engineering supplies, and contracting services.

The Federal Minister for Emergency Management, Murray Watt, highlighted the government’s role in facilitating these crucial developments: “Big River Group’s Wagga Wagga plantation was devastated by the Black Summer Bushfires, but with significant investment from both levels of Government, new machinery and equipment has been installed in the factory in Grafton, bringing a big boost to the local community. This major milestone to modernise and expand operations will enable workers to access valuable trade skills and support the timber industry’s economic recovery in the region.”

Echoing this sentiment, Minister for Regional NSW, Tara Moriarty, emphasised the significance of the project for the local and regional communities: “Big River Group’s Grafton timber factory is going from strength-to-strength and it’s great to see these upgrades will support them to deliver high-quality timber products to the construction industry well into the future. We know the NSW building industry has been experiencing a shortage of building supplies, which is why the NSW Government is supporting projects, like this, that inject more timber supply into the state. The opening of the upgraded factory is a big win for Grafton and the surrounding region as it’s bolstered the local economy by taking on additional employees with further plans to grow.”

Big River’s operations are not only pivotal in supplying essential building products for the construction industry but also in offering a range of decorative and architectural products, many of which are proudly produced in Grafton. This blend of functionality and aesthetics, underpinned by a century-long legacy and a forward-looking ethos, positions Big River as a key player in sustaining the architectural integrity and development of NSW, Australia and New Zealand.

“As we unveil the latest upgrade to our Grafton facility, we continue a tradition of excellence that began over 100 years ago,” said John Lorente. “This project represents more than just an expansion; it’s a clear demonstration of our commitment to innovation, sustainability, investment in and growth of our workforce. We acknowledge the crucial role our factory plays in the lives of our team members and the local region. By enhancing our capacity to supply high-value timber products and investing in the development of our team, we are not only upholding our century-long legacy but also reinforcing our dedication to ensuring a sustainable future for the timber industry in Australia. This initiative solidifies Big River’s role as a leader in the market by providing community support and environmental stewardship that balances economic growth with ecological preservation.”

“Furthermore, we are thankful for the support provided by both the Australian and NSW State Governments through the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund. The funding they provided has been crucial in allowing us to modernise our operations and expand our team,” John added, expressing his gratitude for the government support.