The man who took charge of Canada's Ainsworth Group of Companies earlier this year says both the North American economy and his company are showing signs of turning around, but the road to recovery for both will be slow.

"I think the bottom of the market has already happened," Richard Huff, Ainsworth's CEO and president, told reporters Wednesday during the Pacific Coast Builders Conference in San Francisco. "We're starting to see signs of improvement." But he added that this improvement is extremely modest. "I never thought I'd see the day I was cheering 565,000 housing starts," Huff continued. "... I think we're on a reasonably slow road to recovery."

Huff took over Ainsworth in January, a few months after the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company was restructured and the Ainsworth family lost effective control of the company it had operated for two generations. It has closed permanently two Oriented Strand Board (OSB) mills in Minnesota and is seeking a new use for a third one in the state. In addition, it has indefinitely closed an OSB facility in Alberta that it jointly owns, and has stopped work on a new line at another plant in Alberta that was designed to produce engineered wood products.

Last month, Ainsworth reported its operating loss in the first quarter improved substantially to C$11 million (US$9.7 million), from C$25.9 million (US$22.9 million) in the year-earlier period. Sales improved to C$81 million (US$71.5 million) from C$73.8 million (US$65.2 million) in January through March 2008.

"We've been able to ride out the downturn and position ourselves for when the market turns itself around," said Huff, who previously was CEO of the Sinclar Group. He said the mills that remain open have been running at 100% capacity, adding: "We're confident we'll continue to be able to run the mills flat-out through the downturn."

Ainsworth calls itself the fourth-largest producer of OSB in North America. It serves primarily the Western United States, particularly California--thus its presence at PCBC.