40 Under 40 Class of 2007

Cinda Jones

Age 39. President, Cowls Lumber Co.

Today, Cinda Jones heads up the oldest family business in Western Mass. — but she didn’t exactly begin at the top.

“I started in the family business at age 10, cutting plastic yellow triangles for foresters to use as boundary markers,” said the ninth-generation president of Cowls Lumber Co. in North Amherst. Not surprisingly, that wasn’t enough experience for Jones, who went on to hold natural resource non-profit management positions in Maine and Washington, D.C. for a decade after college, before returning home to take the reins at Cowls. “The family insisted I get useful before coming back,” she said.

Now, as president, Jones oversees natural resource management on the company’s timberland in 31 towns in Hampshire and Franklin counties. She also manages the company’s real estate division, as well as its sawmill and planing mill that manufacture up to 3 million board feet of pine, oak, and hemlock annually.

In addition, this often blunt-spoken libertarian — well-known these days for her efforts to protect private timberland from federal government regulation — is helping other business owners by trying to make Amherst a more, well, useful resource for businesses. As the current president of the board of directors of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, she’s working to help local companies be more competitive with Internet and big-box competition, and to jump-start a “buy local” campaign. 

“It’s really not a hard sell,” she said, “because local folks are really dedicated to protecting our local flavor. They know if big boxes put their downtowns out of business, they won’t like the look or feel of what’s left.”

Her favorite cause, however, is promoting the availability of “workforce-attainable housing” in the Pioneer Valley, noting that “it’s unbelievable to me that people who protect and teach our families can’t afford to live here.”

Jones herself won’t be chased away, not even by the lightning strike and fire that burned Cowls’ old sawmill in 2002. She and her brother and business partner, Evan, have since built a new mill, turning what she calls “my most awful experience since returning home” into a positive. Features in the new mill include interpretive panels about sustainable forestry and lumber manufacturing, and an observation deck from which visitors can watch logs turn into lumber.

As for Jones, she’s come a long way from turning sheets of plastic into triangles.

Joseph Bednar