BANGOR, Maine — The aroma of freshly cut wood and the high-pitched whining and buzzing of chain saws, sawmills and chippers filled the air at Bass Park on Friday as the 2011 Northeastern Forest Products Equipment Exposition opened Friday morning to sunny skies and record attendance.
Despite the weak economy, foreign competition, high fuel costs and the closure of paper mills, pulp operations and sawmills in Maine and other Northeastern states, the show’s opening day attracted thousands involved in the woodlot, logging, sawmill and trucking businesses. It continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Bass Park Director Mike Dyer said the loggers’ expo, which has been coming to Bangor every other year since 1983, has become a much-anticipated tradition for those involved in the woods products industry.
“This is a big deal,” Dyer said. “For Bangor, this is as big a deal trade show as we’re ever likely to do. How many other industries or trades or trade associations can make use of displaying outdoors?”
The show is produced by the Northeastern Loggers’ Association, a trade association for those involved in the wood products industry.
“We actually think this is going to be a record year for attendance,” said Joe Phaneuf, the association’s executive director. “We’re expecting about 7,500 based on preregistrations. Our record for this show was about 6,900,” he said.
Vendors and attendees come primarily from Maine but also eastern Canada, New Hampshire and southern New England, but also hail from farther away, he said.
As Phaneuf sees it, getting a handle on the wood market is difficult because it’s both cyclical and has many variables.
“It’s very much a market-driven industry,” he said Friday. “In general, I would say it’s somewhat depressed right now. It’s very uneven. It depends on what local markets are working that can support a logger or a community of loggers or what export markets are doing well.”
Despite the current challenges, Phaneuf says the industry will hang in there.
“This industry is very much comprised of both survivors and optimists,” Phaneuf said. “You have to be somewhat of an optimist, really work hard, to survive in these difficult times because as you know, cycles do turn and if you’ve survived in this business long enough, you’ve seen good times and you’ve seen bad times.”
Among the thousands in attendance were Ken and June Flagg of Strong. The couple has been making the trip to Bangor to check out the latest in machinery, supplies and services since the expo made its debut here in 1983. The Flaggs have been involved in the logging industry long enough to have seen some dramatic changes.
Ken Flagg, who operates a grapple skidder for Mainely Trees, has been working in the logging industry for most of his life. He was allowed to pile limbs at the age of 6. He picked up his first chain saw at 12. June Flagg’s father was a scaler for Seven Islands Land Co.
They keep returning to the expo to keep up with the latest in technology and equipment and to catch up with friends they only see every other year.
“When I started, I used ax and a bucksaw,” Ken Flagg said.
“Now there are computer programs to manage your woods industry,” June Flagg said. “They’ve certainly come up with all sorts of things.”
Some things that the Flaggs say could help the struggling industry are tariffs and more business-friendly government at all levels.
“We need tariffs on wood products coming in from other countries,” June Flagg said. “Donald Trump, although I probably would not vote for him, did say that we need to put tariffs on the products that are coming in to the United States and I agree with that because their products are one of the things causing us not to be able to produce at a reasonable rate. We can’t compete.”
Kenn Flagg noted that there is a lack of consistency when it comes to permits for starting new businesses.
“It pretty much depends on the person you’re dealing with. There’s no standard way they go about it,” he said, adding, “They can’t fix it by making more bureaucracy. They’ve got to simplify things.”