Lumbering is thriving in Western North Carolina, and Jimmy Lee is one reason why. Lee’s company, Tides and Times Group, employs 250 and contracts with at least 25 logging companies. Lee owns 11 mills in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, one of which is Oak Valley Hardwoods. Processing and kiln-drying wood, it runs out of the old Stanley Furniture plant in Robbinsville with 28 employees, a sales target of $12 million this year, and good prospects for expansion. About 20 percent of the plant’s wood is exported to China, 40 percent to Vietnam, and 10 percent to other countries. Over the past five years, approximately 40 percent of North Carolina timber, or $165 million in annual sales, has gone to China. Sales are 30 times higher than they were in 2000, when Chinese factories, capitalizing on cheap labor and economies of scale, would sell furniture made of US wood back to the US. Now, most furniture made from high-quality hardwoods remains in China and only cheap-wood products return to the states. Even so, economists argue the current situation is good for North Carolina and the planet. Good prices are an incentive to conserve timber for the long-term. Furthermore, what portion of Chinese demand American lumber cannot fill is likely to be satisfied with timber harvested unsustainably and illegally from rainforests in developing countries.