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The future of Alabama’s forest products industry

"As an industry, forest products are evolving" - Gary Faulkner, the forest economic development specialist for the Alabama Forestry Commission

The forest products industry has been of great importance to Alabama for a long time and its evolution will ensure that it continues to play a vital role in the state’s economy.

Gary Faulkner, the forest economic development specialist for the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) – the state agency that manages, protects and educates the public about forest resources – has an optimistic outlook about the future of the sector in Alabama.

“As an industry, forest products are evolving,” he said. “It’s an exciting time, with new technologies, products, sustainable resources, geographical market shifts and other factors creating opportunities for all segments of the industry. But, at the end of the day, everything still revolves around resources – and we have the resources and the business climate to ensure that the forest products industry continues to thrive in Alabama.”

His view is shared by Brian Via, Regions Bank professor and director of the Forest Products Development Center at Auburn University.

“The forest products sector has always been very important to Alabama financially,” Via said. “Now, thanks to the commitment to developing new products and reaching new markets, the industry is in prime position to expand.”

Alabama’s forest products industry produces $ 4 billion in products annually, including nearly $ 1.4 billion in exports. This industry has created 10,000 new jobs in the past decade, along with $ 6.7 billion in capital investment. Alabama’s timber-based economy currently accounts for more than 43,000 jobs and more than $ 2.4 billion in annual payrolls.

A projection prior to COVID-19, says that the current number of jobs is projected to grow by more than 10% by 2025. However, the industry seems to be facing the worst impacts of the pandemic.

An example of this is the increased demand for toilet paper from Georgia-Pacific’s Choctaw County facility, where the company employs 900 employees. Two other manufacturers – in Mobile and Cherokee counties – employ a combined total of more than 1,000 Alabamians in the production of recycled toilet tissue.

“COVID affected all of us in the forestry sector,” the AFC’s Faulkner said. “But the industry has persevered as well as a designated ‘essential industry’, and the trends continue to look good. As we get to the other side of the pandemic, Alabama’s forest products industry will be the right place, at the right time, with the right products.”

Maintaining the state’s success and building the future of forest products is the responsibility of managing and expanding wood resources. More than two-thirds of Alabama’s land area is covered by forest forests. In 2019, the United States Forest Service’s Forest Inventory Analysis reported that Alabama has 42.2 billion cubic feet of standing wood.

“We do a good job of managing our forests,” said Auburn’s Via, pointing out that for every tree being harvested in Alabama, 1.6 are being planted. “That’s a real asset, and it’s going to continue to be critical for long-term growth.”

For generations, the forest products industry in Alabama has benefited from the combination of soil, water, climate and location that make the state one of the industry’s national leaders. Now, the growing numbers of businesses and individuals are recognizing the competitive advantages of sustainability, Alabama is positioned to build on that prominence.

“Alabama has a great team,” Faulkner said. “Everybody recognizes the importance of the forest products industry and its future. We can support our industry to be successful, and thanks to the quality of the team we have and the strength of the industry, success is something we expect.”

See the original story at Alabama NewsCenter.

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