STRATTON – Ownership of Stratton Lumber Inc., a key player in Maine’s dimensional lumber market, was passed on to the next generation in a management buyout, company officials announced last week.

Stratton Lumber, which produces a little more than 15 percent of Maine’s spruce-fir dimensional lumber in a high-tech computerized mill, is also one of the biggest year-round employers in northern Franklin County, with 75 people on the payroll, General Manager Peter Smetanka said.

Former owner Jean-Paul Fontaine, who started the mill in 1981 with his father, sold a majority of his shares in the business to Smetanka, Pierre Gariepy and Nicolas Fontaine, all of whom worked for Fontaine for years.

For Fontaine, who remains president of the Quebec-based Fontaine Group, the sale was a solid business decision and a chance to see a long-held dream come true.

“That’s a dream I had,” Fontaine said Wednesday. “You know, I was not prepared, and I never thought about the idea of selling (Stratton) to a very large company. I wanted to, if possible, have people I had been working with be part of the company and own it.”

“To me that was extremely important,” he said. “I am very pleased and very lucky to have them, and I was prepared to make this happen.”

Fontaine said he worked with the “younger generation” to make the sale possible, and was happy on the day he officially signed over the mill.

“All I can say, is these three guys have what it takes,” Fontaine said. “They’ll make it happen.”

The new management doesn’t plan on making any drastic changes in work force or operations at the mill, Smetanka said, and Fontaine will continue to be a part of the business, at least as a source of guidance.

They’ll also continue the company’s commitment to its people, to quality, and to using whatever it takes, including high-tech computer equipment, to boost productivity.

A new computer system has already helped to grow Stratton Lumber’s production by more than 80 percent in the past two years, Smetanka said, and the owners are in the middle of implementing improvements to complete a $2.5 million improvement plan.

“People almost pity you when you say you work for a lumber mill in Maine,” Smetanka said. Competition is tough in any industry, but in one like lumber – trees can take 100 years to grow, he said – investing in technology that boosts a company’s efficiency is the key to success.

Stratton’s new computer system scans the logs coming into the mill and uses a mathematical program to suggest the optimal way for it to be cut, so the most can be made out of everything coming through. Running the programs is tough, detailed work, Smetanka said, but it’s worth the effort in productivity gained.

“We invest all the time,” he said. “You can’t stop. The minute you stop investing, you start falling behind.”

“A two-by-four isn’t just a two-by-four,” Smetanka said. “We want to be the two-by-four everybody wants.”