Plentiful wood basket gives area a leg up in economic recovery

Published 10:05 am Saturday, May 22, 2010

One of the buzz words you may have heard since the announcement of the International Paper Franklin mill’s closure is “wood basket.”

Generally speaking, when people in the forest industry talk about their wood basket, they are referring to an area where wood is available that may be used by a particular manufacturer such as a paper mill, sawmill, pellet mill, particleboard mill, chip mill or any other wood-using facility.

If we look at our wood basket within a 100-mile haul distance from Franklin, there are 58 counties and cities in Virginia and North Carolina that provide timber to the overall market.

Timber inventory data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service indicates 290 million tons of standing marketable timber within this area. This equates to nearly 12 million truckloads of wood.

We are fortunate to have this abundant supply of a renewable natural resource. I emphasize renewable, because trees can be harvested, replanted and managed in a sustainable manner to provide forest resources for future generations. By contrast, many of our other natural resources, such as fossil fuels, are non-renewable. Couple this natural resource with the major routes of 58 and 460 and Interstate 95 and our close proximity to the port of Hampton Roads and we become a prime area for forest-product facilities.

Forestry is big business in Virginia and produces more than $23 billion of goods and services annually in the Commonwealth. There are nearly 700 wood products manufacturing facilities in Virginia. Additionally, byproducts from these manufacturing operations are burned to produce electricity that saves more than 2 million barrels of oil annually.

It has a huge impact on the local economy as well. Take a moment and think about who is impacted when a timber sale occurs for wood delivery to a mill. You have the landowner, forestry consultant, lawyer, logger, trucker, fuel vendor, equipment vendor, parts supplier, chainsaw supplier and road contractor. Take it to the next level and look at where these people spend their money, and you very quickly begin to see the ripple effect.

The IP Economic Recovery Task Force Forestry Committee has worked to provide information to interested companies that may want to locate on the mill site or other potential sites in our area. Our region has come to the attention of domestic and international companies hoping to capitalize on our location, our natural resource and our valuable and experienced workforce.

Other organizations such as the Virginia Forestry Association, the Virginia Loggers Association, the Virginia Forest Products Association and the Virginia Department of Forestry provide information to assist forest-product businesses.

I am certain that an opportunistic company or consortium will locate at the IP mill site and potentially at other locations in our region. Interest is high in building mills for manufacturing wood pellets for domestic use as well as for exporting. There is also a great deal of attention in the use of woody biomass for energy production.

There is opportunity for us to succeed by taking a local resource and using it in a local industry and boosting our local economy.

All this and helping the environment by producing renewable energy.