Maine Voices: Resilient forest economy evolves
It’s not just about big mills anymore. Maine’s forest industry offers some of the ‘greenest’ jobs.
By Patrick Strauch
We’re on the cusp of a new kind of thinking in Maine and across the nation. People are realizing our economy can’t be solely a service economy, nor can it be designed around financial institutions. There’s a growing consensus that, as Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute said last fall at the GrowSmart Summit in Augusta, “Going forward, we will innovate less if we do not produce more. We must make things again.”
Katz called this the Third Industrial Revolution and stressed the need to bring manufacturing back to the nation and to Maine. But as people talk about bringing back manufacturing jobs, they should know that some of those jobs never left. There are some of the “greenest” jobs in the world in the forest industry.
With the help of the University of Maine, the Maine Forest Service and the Maine Department of Labor, the Council recently compiled a report titled Maine’s Forest Economy, which is available on our website: www.maineforest.org. This report not only explains the trends in employment and wages over time, but shows the resilience of the industry through a very difficult economic time.
We are still the state’s leading manufacturing industry and its largest exporter. As research by Dr. Todd Gabe, UMaine professor of economics shows, the state’s forest economy has a value-added impact of an estimated $3.3 billion. That’s equivalent to 6.38 percent of the state’s gross domestic product in 2011. Put another way, $1 out of every $16 in Maine gross state product is associated with the forest products sector and one out of every 20 jobs.
Even during the recent recession, many Council members invested in their facilities to increase productivity and diversify their position in the marketplace. Some examples include:
- Verso Paper, SAPPI, and Lincoln Tissue and Paper invested millions to build energy capacity beyond their internal needs and to enter the wholesale electricity market, capitalizing on renewable energy market demands.
- Stratton Lumber, Hancock Lumber, Moose River Lumber, Pleasant River Lumber and Robbins Lumber invested in log scanning and processing technology to ensure high productivity and quality control.
- Domestic wood pellet production has been increased to meet the demand from Maine residents and businesses for thermal heating. The recent $275,000 federal grant to the Northern Maine Development Commission for the Biomass Clean Tech Manufacturing Cluster Strategic Plan demonstrates the role Maine’s forest can play in energy independence.
- Old Town Fuel and Fiber is working with the University of Maine to develop cellulosic ethanol as a renewable fuel.
- Louisiana Pacific invested more than $140 million in its New Limerick mill near Houlton to allow it to expand into the production of laminated strand lumber.
- Huber Resources in Easton has enhanced its AdvanTech house sheathing by adding a coat of waterproofing to eliminate the house-wrapping step in building construction.
Maine’s forest economy has evolved so quietly that many of our neighbors don’t realize how much our industry has changed. It isn’t just about big mills crunching out paper anymore; it’s about paper mills producing paper plus energy and extracting chemicals out of wood, instead of just burning it as fuel. It’s about high-tech sawmills and mechanized logging. This new age requires a lot more research and development, and more innovation. You can even throw green jobs into the mix, because that’s what our business is all about.
We don’t want to oversell the opportunities, because there also are challenges as we gear up for this new economy. For example, the retirement of baby boomers from forests, paper mills and sawmills is a big concern. It’s time to invest in the education of the workers we will need.
So how can we insure Maine’s forest economy continues to thrive? Here are a few ideas:
- Provide business incentives for expanding the manufacturing base, because a strong manufacturing sector provides outlets for wood, which keeps forests intact..
- Expand value-added processing in Maine to enhance job growth and the overall economy.
- Protect the most effective conservation program in the state, the Tree Growth tax program.
- Enhance the image of forest sector jobs and increase training and educational opportunities.
Maine citizens want to maintain healthy forests, so we hope to help them understand that healthy forests depend upon competitive energy rates, economically and environmentally sound regulations, and the education of our youth. If we do those things, the entire Maine economy and all of our people will benefit.