Many of us don’t work in the forest products industry. Why should we care about its economic future?
I want to thank Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin for drawing attention to the “slow moving hurricane” that is beleaguering the forest products industry in Maine. Their actions have been instrumental in bringing grants totaling over $7 million and an Economic Development Assessment Team to our area this August.
I was in the audience at the University of Maine, home of the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute, when the announcements were made on Friday. Poliquin and Maine Forest Products Council Vice President Jim Contino of Verso referred to the $8.5 billion forest products industry and its 34,000 jobs. As one of the authors of the study those numbers are drawn from, along with my doctoral student James Anderson, I am pleased to see this information being used to emphasize the importance of the industry to the state’s economy.
The economic health of the forest products industry matters to all of us, and that can be seen in those 34,000 jobs. If you go to the available data and add up employment in the various sectors that comprise the forest products industry — such as sawmills, logging, and pulp and paper manufacturing — you’ll arrive at a total of 14,562 jobs in the industry. So why did we find a higher number?
The 33,538 jobs we found in our study are those direct jobs, plus all the jobs that exist because the forest products industry exists. They are the jobs that are generated from the inputs purchased by the industry as it does business and the wages that industry workers bring home. These jobs aren’t just chemical engineers, loggers and mill workers, but also doctors, restaurant owners, child care providers and accountants. They are grocery store clerks, teachers, hair stylists and nurses.
This is why I care.
Too often we read about a mill closure and sympathize with those who lost their jobs that day. We fail to realize the broader impact those losses have — not just in one industry, but in many industries. Not just in one community, but in all Maine communities, because many of these indirect jobs exist in counties far from the mills. A mill closing in Penobscot County affects York and Cumberland counties, when Portland legal services employed by the mill are no longer needed or when workers in Millinocket can no longer take their family to Old Orchard Beach for a vacation.
This is why the Economic Development Assessment Team visit and investment is so timely and necessary. We’re all in this together. What we’re experiencing isn’t unique to Maine. In large part it is because of forces outside of our control — changing consumer demand, increases in papermaking capacity in other countries, changes in values of currencies. But we can, and must, do what it takes to support our existing manufacturing of both solid wood and pulp and paper products, and discover innovative new uses for wood that can boost the industry and the harvesting that supports it all. The Economic Development Assessment Team, and our implementation of their recommendations, has the potential to do this.
Supporting new uses for wood benefits all of us even beyond jobs. Properly and actively managed forests can provide more of all the goods and services we desire: wood-based products that we all consume; better access for outdoor recreation; improved forest health that can withstand wind, insects and changing weather; and even carbon sequestration and storage. Active management relies on both markets for products and skilled forest products industry workers. If we lose those, then we all lose economic and ecological benefits, both locally and across the state.
That’s why we all have a stake in seeing the success of these investments. I thank the congressional delegation, President Barack Obama’s administration, and the Department of Commerce for giving us — the forest industry and all the residents of Maine — this opportunity to take positive action now. I urge all of us to embrace the current federal assistance and the Economic Development Assessment Team effort, and work together to implement the recommendations and coordinated action that come from it.
Mindy Crandall is an assistant professor of forest management and economics in the School of Forest Resources at the University of Maine.