It may seem odd that APEG is putting so much effort into our wood products industry. In a world where technologies are introduced daily and whole new industries gear up to produce them, why focus so much attention on wood? After all, people have been making things with wood since we lived in caves!
So, why wood?
First off, wood is here to stay. The demand for fine hardwood products remains very strong. Some of the finest hardwoods in the world grow here. We can substantially increase their harvest and still be sustainable. Most of our forests are owned by small local landowners, so every tree we sustainably harvest puts more money into our region’s economy.
Second, our forest economy is huge. The industry contributed $22 billion to Ohio’s GDP, providing $5.7 billion in wages and 118,000 jobs in 2010 – before the economic recovery really got rolling. More than 70 percent of the forests and a hefty majority of Ohio firms producing wood products are located in Appalachian counties.
Third, we can capture a lot more value from our forest products. We export the vast majority of our wood from Ohio in low value forms – as green logs or minimally processed products.
Fourth, we have an incredibly skilled workforce. We likely have the largest concentration of hardwood furniture makers left in America – ranging from small Amish workshops to factories that produce entire lines of fine furniture. We also have thousands of skilled workers laid off from millwork and cabinet companies that closed when the housing bubble burst. They are eager to go back to work in an industry they know and love.
Finally, the foreign factories that bled off so many wood sector jobs no longer have the upper hand. Their labor costs have gone up and their energy costs have skyrocketed. Our labor costs are stable and our energy costs are among the lowest in the world.
So why wood?