Name: Norman C. Hunt

Age: 75

Title: Vice president and founder

Company: N.C. Hunt Lumber, Jefferson

About: Sawmill and retail lumber yard with landscaping materials and trucking and transportation operations.

Website: nchuntlumber.com

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Labor. Getting help and skilled labor. We need Class A and B truck drivers and equipment operators. We’re looking for help in the sawmill to be a sawmill operator, like run a machine like an edger. If we get the right people, we could hire 10 people today. We’re looking for a sales person for the retail store, and a yard person to be a foreman of the retail yard.

We have people, but gee whiz, our sales are good. We could increase volume here.

Today, people are looking for more money. If they don’t like it here they could go down the road and get a job, pays 50 cents more. Everyone is looking for help. We increased our wages a lot this year, by $3 an hour, maybe. It’s not a matter of how much we pay, because everyone is looking for help. The business is there, so we can raise prices, but we can’t get help.

The state of Maine in the last 30 years has focused on Vacationland. We have regulated out the fish factories, regulate fishermen out of business, kind of, regulated farmers out of business and regulated the forestry out of business. When you put regulations on, you raise costs and cut back business. As a result over the last 25 years, the younger people can’t find jobs and they moved out. The younger people aren’t coming along.

Nobody is doing anything to build the spirit and to listen to the younger people and help the younger people, the working class people who are making $18 an hour or less.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

To have a good neighbor, you got to be a good neighbor.

An old friend of mine, up in Augusta, had a machine shop and wore dirty clothes just like I do and got along with the working class. It was George Palmer, at Palmer Machine Shop.

I remember the day he told me that; it was probably 30 years ago. “Norman,” he said, “I’ve always said to have good neighbors you have to be a good neighbor.” I’ve said that to my crew.

I worked my way through college at the cafeteria, and if I saw a person sitting by themselves, I didn’t care who they were, I would sit down and say, “Can you help us with something?” I was the class president, and get them involved. I like to help people. I like to help the working middle class and give them a hand.

How do you promote problem solving skills in your staff?

Well, you talk with them. If they’ve got a problem, I say don’t tell me the problem, tell me a solution. What’s the answer?

Everybody can (complain) about something, so tell me how to solve this thing. In my organization here, they’ll (complain) about something, like in the saw mill or the planing mill or the trucks or whatever and I will say, “I will work with you tomorrow, I’ll work with you on it.” So we’ll try it. They solve their problems. That’s the only way I know how to solve problems, if it’s my employees — work with them.

What’s your greatest fear?

Our people in Congress and in Augusta are interested in getting elected and not doing the right thing for their constituents. If we give more welfare, that’s more votes. If we allow immigrants into our country, that’s votes. If we have more Medicare, that’s votes. We’re so damn busy spending other people’s money, it makes it more difficult to live our lives and run our businesses.

Why aren’t working in a direction where one person can work in the family and somebody can raise the children and not have all these kids that have been left behind? Where’s it going to get better?

How do you navigate changing market conditions?

I see the market as very good right now. The paper industry was kind of closing down and going out. And now Verso Paper is coming back very strong for the forestry industry and that’s a big help to run a saw mill. We see the sawdust market and we’ve got the wood pellets and things coming out for energy, so we’ve got a good market for a byproduct. We’re seeing the prices of lumber, especially our local hemlock, are going up. Our spruce prices went astronomically high here mostly I guess because of the hurricanes last fall. The price of lumber is going up. We are selling lumber at 20 percent higher this year than we did last year. That’s good. We’re seeing people buying materials for their yards — loam and mulch, fertilizer and composted top soil. We raised the price this year. Things are good. But the biggest trouble we have is that we can’t get the good help. Everyone is looking for help.