Work force concerns dominate 2019 annual meeting

Center, Ryan Wallace, Maine Center for Business and Economic Research, with Jim Contino, Verso (left) and Justin Merrill, Merrill Logging.

As MFPC Executive Director Patrick Strauch wrote in a recent op-ed for the Portland Press Herald, 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.

Elected to the Board of Directors for 3-year terms
  • Dave Harvey – ND Paper
  • Alex Ingraham- Pingree Associates
  • Dick Pierce – Columbia Forest Products.
Reelected to the Board of Directors for  3-year terms:
  • Elgin Turner – H.C. Haynes
  • Eugene Mahar – LandVest
  • Anthony Hourihan – Irving
  • Winthrop Smith – Limington Lumber
  • Jack Wadsworth – Wadsworth Woodlands

The flip side of that rebound is that the industry is facing a work force “crisis,” said Ryan Wallace, director of the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine, told more than 100  members, guests, speakers and state leaders, including Gov. Janet Mills, at the Council’s 59th annual meeting Sept 16.

“This a crisis in many respects and not for just the forest sector but for a number of sectors in the state,” Wallace said. “We need to think about how we are going to tap the local supply chain – cultivate the local displaced and discouraged workers. Find young people who are not set in their jobs. How do we attract and target those age cohorts to tell them the story about the opportunities in the forest products sector?”

Gov. Mills and several members of her administration spoke at the annual meeting. Mills talked about many issues facing the state and also about the resurgence of the forest products industry.

“Maine’s forests have breathed life into our communities, powered our economy, driven innovation across the world,” Gov. Mills said. ” There’s no question we’ve been through difficult times, but you have always been and always will be at the core of our economy and our state’s success.”

Members heard two interesting presentations, one from William Perritt – Maine’s pulpwood and biomass markets. Perritt is a senior editor  for Fastmarkets RISI. The second speaker was Rod Young, former RISI CEO and chairman, whose presentation was on the North American Pulp and Paper Outlook.

Yet concerns about the industry’s work force dominated much of the discussions during the meeting. Wallace started his presentation with a sobering look at Maine’s forest products sector’s work force, which is one of the oldest in the state. Then he moderated a spirited discussion by panelists Jason Brochu, co-president, Pleasant River Lumber; Randy Chicoine, vice president and general manager of Maine Operations for ND Paper; Jim Contino, fiber supply director, Verso, and  Justin Merrill, Merrill Logging.

“To summarize some of the key points for the forest products sector, workers are retiring so you’re going to need 4,200 in the next 10 years,” Wallace said. “And that doesn’t include any expansion for added opportunities that do come up, which are just going to put added pressure on. ”

Certainty and predictability are important to potential workers, as well as training options, Wallace said. “Wages already are a challenge to recruitment, especially for supply chain industries,” he added. “How are we going to address these challenge?”

Recruiting workers in Maine is essential, he said, but the industry also should recruit outside the state. “Let’s  think strongly and seriously about how we can target youth in other places to come Maine and help build our communities and our industry,” Wallace said.

Each of the panelists also provided insight into their companies’ workforce challenges. 

“Unemployment is effectively zero in Maine and has been for a while,” Brochu said. “So regionally we’re having to do something different to attract people and we’re having difficulties in practically every area right now. We’ve got a mill in southern Maine, in Sanford, and that area is completely saturated and you’re competing on labor scales and pay rates with everybody from McDonalds all the way up to the tech companies. There are not enough people to go around.”

ND Paper, which employs about 650 workers in Rumford and 130 in Old Town, considers an aging work force as “one of the largest threats to being competitive,” Chicoine said. “At the Rumford mill, we’re expected to see turnover in the next four or five years of 50 percent,” he said. “Most of that is due to retirements and when someone retires you lose your most experienced folks — people you’ve invested a lot of training in”

Contino is concerned about the “understandable loss of logging capacity” in the past few years, as mills closed or cut back. “What we’re seeing is wood being imported into the state of Maine – from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Quebec — and every time you do that it’s a second leg of freight and a lot of transportation,” he said. “What I think we need to do is take some of the expensive sources wood from far away and figure out how to redistribute it in the supply chain to try to encourage more employment and capacity growth.”

Merrill agreed, saying more resources need to go to the logging and forestry programs at Maine’s Career and Technical Education Centers (CTEs) around state. “The biggest thing that we face is the labor shortage and the aging workforce,” he said. “It’s hard for us to invest money with the market fluctuation. The prediction is for a growing economy and the need for us to produce fiber for the paper and lumber industry.”



































































































































The Maine Forest Products Council invites you to attend our 59th annual membership meeting at the Sugarloaf Ski Resort on 5092 Access Road, Carrabassett Valley, ME.  This year, attendees will have the opportunity to play golf at the Sugarloaf Golf Course on Sunday and enjoy a BBQ at Strokes Bar and Grille right at the clubhouse.

Monday morning starts off with an early breakfast at the hotel before our annual membership meeting.  The meeting will involve an election of officers, and a report of legislative activities.

The rest of the morning will be devoted to work force issues. We’ll start off with a presentation by Ryan Wallace, director of the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research, Muskie School of Public Service, on an overview of the work force issues facing Maine’s forest products industry, followed by a panel discussion.

The afternoon session will focus on the outlook for lumber, wood products, and pulp and paper in the U.S. and across the global markets. 

William Perritt is Executive Editor for Fast markets RISI’s North American Wood fiber & Biomass Markets, News Editor for International Wood Fiber Report, and editor of Log Lines. He also produces RISI’s North American and European Wood Biomass Project databases. Perritt has covered pulpwood market news for decades and is in regular contact with industry sources, including in Maine.

Rod Young, former RISI CEO and chairman, now chief economic advisor, will provide the outlook on pulp and paper. Young started modeling and forecasting in the pulp and paper industry in 1977. Since then, his work in international pulp and paper markets has received worldwide recognition. Rod now consults on a regular basis with companies throughout the world. He continues to assist in the development of the Fastmarkets RISI analysis and forecast of the world pulp and paper market, along with working on individual projects. In addition, Rod is the primary person responsible for the Fastmarkets RISI analysis of the global dissolving pulp market.

“Getting a RISI person to speak is outstanding because they are very knowledgeable, able to accurately convey trends and most importantly, they are neutral arbiters, said Ron Lovaglio. “They tell it like it is.” 


Message from MFPC Board President Gordon Gamble, of Wagner Forest Management: “The success of this meeting depends greatly on membership support. As a MFPC member, I would like to extend to you the opportunity to participate as a sponsor. As you know, sponsorship is an essential component to all the events we hold, and it is especially important to subsidize the cost of the events. This allows broader participation of our members by keeping individual expense down. A special form for sponsorship registration is enclosed with your registration materials. We hope that you will join us for our biggest event of the year. Registration forms for all events and meals are below. If you have any questions, please feel free to call our staff at 622-9288 or email Sue at  I’m looking forward to seeing you there.”