After some of the toughest years in the long history of Maine’s forest products industry, a new, stronger forest economy is emerging. Just a back-of-the-envelope tally shows investments of about $1 billion is revitalizing our industry.

They were right. Maine is ready to play a bigger role in the New Forest Economy, thanks in part to intensive research into global markets by the Forest Opportunity Roadmap/Maine, a unique collaboration between industry, communities, government, education and nonprofits. FOR/Maine thinks our forest products industry, which contributed an estimated $8.5 billion to the state’s economy in 2016, could grow to $12 billion by 2025.

That’s an ambitious goal, but Maine has something the world, with its ever-growing population, wants and needs – enormous resources of sustainably managed wood. We’re also optimistic because our remaining mills have modernized, retooled and diversified their product lines.

For example, Verso’s Androscoggin Mill once focused on making glossy catalogue and magazine paper, but now also produces specialty papers that are in demand, such as liners for cardboard boxes and paper used in food packaging and labels.

“It could be microwave popcorn bags, dogfood bags or fast food wrappers,” said Jim Contino, fiber supply director for Verso. “You see our labels when you go to grocery stores. They might be anything that’s got color printing on it.”

ND Paper restarted the Old Town mill, which closed in 2015, and recently announced more investments in its Rumford mill. St. Croix Tissue Inc., formed in 2014, started two tissue machines on the Woodland Pulp mill site adding 80 jobs.

Sappi rebuilt a paper machine at the Somerset Mill in Skowhegan, which is expected to boost its global competitiveness and increase the mill’s production capacity by almost 1 million tons per year. It also improved the mill’s wood yard to optimize efficiency and reduce costs.

Twin Rivers Paper reconfigured a paper machine at its Madawaska mill to produce specialty paper that’s used primarily for packaging and labels.

Maine’s lumber and wood panel mills also have invested in their facilities to keep up with advances in technology. Some stud mills are turning logs into lumber at the rate of one piece of lumber every half second. As the mills rebound, so does the demand for wood, which benefits Maine’s loggers.

Challenges remain in biomass energy markets, which use tree tops, limbs and otherwise unusable wood. Yet biomass energy, a renewable resource, still produced 22 percent of Maine’s electricity in 2018.

As our industry rebounds, we still have much to do. We must increase our capacity to harvest wood and manufacture more wood products, from lumber, to tissue paper, to biobased plastics. We need more trained workers and continued support from policymakers and the public.

About 30,000 people are employed, directly and indirectly, in Maine’s forest products industry. No matter where you live, we are part of your community. So we want to thank our neighbors for their support through the difficult years and we look forward to sharing the brighter days ahead.

Scott Beal of Woodland Pulp recently said what most in the industry feel: “We have been through a tough period and now, instead of looking over our shoulders in doubt, we’re excited to look ahead to the future.”