Thursday, May 4, 2017

Lawmakers, State Agencies, Industry Discuss Forest Products Industry Opportunities

More than two dozen lawmakers and industry leaders gathered at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, McKean County, Wednesday to discuss the importance of the forest products industry to the local and statewide economies, as well as how to maximize the opportunities it offers.
“Today’s meeting offered a great opportunity for lawmakers from other parts of the state to gain a better understanding about the impact of the forest products industry, not only here in the northern tier but also across the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron), Majority Chair of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. “That understanding is vital as we move forward and look at policy changes necessary help the industry reach its full potential.”
Wayne Bender, Executive Director of the PA Hardwoods Development Council, highlighted the statewide economic impact by noting the counties with the highest number of jobs in the industry are Lancaster, York, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, where a variety of secondary wood products are manufactured.
Two of the biggest challenges facing the industry are workforce related. Several industry leaders noted logging companies in Pennsylvania pay very high workers’ compensation rates, nearly twice the amount paid by similar employers in New York state. These rates are making it extremely difficult for them to expand their operations.
Another workforce concern is getting more young people exposed to and involved with the industry. Challenges include the focus on college, rather than vocational education, and laws that may inhibit a family’s ability to involve their younger children in learning the trade.
Another topic of discussion during the meeting was the growing export of wood products to places like China, Canada and Mexico.
While lawmakers praised the industry’s involvement in world markets, several also encouraged developing more end-use manufacturers in Pennsylvania to insulate the industry from geopolitical concerns and to generate more job creation in the Commonwealth.
The impact of state regulations and local ordinances was also discussed as possible impediments to the industry.
Rep. Causer closed the meeting by highlighting recent and ongoing legislative efforts to support the industry, including new laws creating a tax exemption on logging equipment and an increase in the state’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes on Department of Conservation and Natural Resources land in the region.
He also pointed to continuing efforts to maintain funding for the Hardwoods Development Council within the Department of Agriculture’s budget and to address the state’s growing noxious weed problem, which can be damaging to the state’s forests.
Industry leaders participating in the meeting included state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding; John Norbeck, Deputy Secretary for Parks and Forestry within DCNR; Wayne Bender, Executive Director of the PA Hardwoods Development Council; Sue Swanson, Executive Director of the Allegheny Hardwood Utilization Group; David Gustafson, Chief of the Forestry Division of the Game Commission; Dr. Richard Roush, Dean of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences; Tom Kase, Land Manager for Collins Hardwood; and Ken Kane, President of Generations Forestry Inc.
According to the PA Forest Products Association, Pennsylvania is the largest producer of hardwoods in the country, accounting for 10 percent of the total hardwood output in the United States.
Revenue from the industry exceeds $5.5 billion annually, and approximately 90,000 people make a livelihood in forest products.
For more information on promoting the forest products industry in Pennsylvania, visit DCNR’s Green Ribbon Task Force webpage.
(Photo: Ken Kane, Forester and President of Generations Forestry Inc., talks with lawmakers and area leaders about timber management on the Bradford City Municipal Water Authority property.)

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