State leaders need to focus energy on promoting forestry industry | Editorial

A recent study by the Appalachian Hardwood Center and West Virginia University’s Division of Forestry and Natural Resources revealed the forestry industry’s important role in the state economy.

The study showed that 1.4 percent of the state’s gross regional product stems from the forestry industry, The State Journal reported.

Now that doesn’t seem like much. But forestry has enjoyed an uptick since 2012, and it is a contributor to the state’s growth.

But it remains largely untapped considering the state is the “third most heavily forested state in the nation,” The State Journal reported.

Clinton Gabbert, who was a co-author of the study, said forestry took a hit in 2007 during the recession. But there is great potential.

“The governor is looking for an economic driver, and forestry products would be a great place to start,” Gabbert told The State Journal.

“In West Virginia, we are really fortunate to have hardwood forests, and solid wood products are the backbone of the forest products industry,” he said. “This includes container and pallet manufacturing, which is big in West Virginia.

“However, if the economy slows down, we don’t ship as many things, and that affects this industry. One of our biggest factors is the loss of container manufacturing.”

Another factor is that logging and Marcellus Shale often share the same labor pool, which means if the natural gas industry surges, the forestry industry may struggle to compete for workers.

But two fields demanding a strong labor pool would serve to entice people to move to — and not from — the Mountain State.

Kathryn Gazal, another of the study’s co-authors, said the study should provide lawmakers will key information to consider in determining the state’s economic future.

“We are a state reading for resources, and we don’t want to take this one for granted,” Gazal said. “This information is for our policymakers. We are hoping they will notice what the industry is doing for the state and where funding should be focused as far as providing industry subsidies. We are showing people that, although the forestry industry took a downturn, it is still alive.”

State leaders would be wise to follow Gov. Jim Justice’s plans to promote forestry as a budding economic driver. With so much forested land, it only makes sense for the Mountain State to cash in.

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