Task force created for wood products industry

Published 12:25 pm Saturday, March 2, 2013

FRANKLIN—To assure there’s enough loggers to provide materials to the region’s growing wood products industry, a task force has been formed.

There’s a possibility the demand could create up to 75 logging-related jobs, including truckers and equipment operators, said Amanda Jarratt, president and chief executive officer for Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc.

The Southeast Virginia Logging Capacity Task Force in February hired Branchville forestry consultant C. Harrell Turner as its coordinator. The task force also plans to work with Paul D. Camp Community College to train potential logging employees and develop new companies.

“We are still in the early stages of the process and feel there is significant room for expansion,” said Jarratt, who is also a task force member. “The ability to get the resources out of the woods is what we want to make sure we can meet.”

Southeast Virginia experienced a dramatic downturn in wood products industries over the past decade, but that trend is beginning to reverse as a number of new projects by wood-using industries are being developed, according to a news release from the task force.

The $91 million repurposing of the International Paper mill in Franklin for manufacturing fluff pulp, the construction of two wood pellet plants by Enviva including one in Southampton County, and the conversion of two coal-burning power plants to wood-fuel by Dominion Power, including one in Southampton County, are creating new logging opportunities.

Preliminary estimates indicate that based on these new projects, annual wood consumption in the area would increase by more than 3 million tons by the end of 2013.

“We want to make sure the new and existing businesses can get the raw supply they need,” Jarratt said.

The task force sent surveys to 80 logging companies in Southeastern Virginia to determine their needs to expand.

“Those small businesses keep our large industry running,” Jarratt said. “Our larger industry cannot be successful unless we have the small businesses.”

Turner is reviewing survey results and plans to have them available next week.

The hope is to find logging companies interested in expanding, he said.

“But there will still be a big gap,” Turner said. “We have to find people willing to go into the logging business. There are certain barriers, (like) finding the finances to buy the equipment.”

He noted when IP shut down in 2010, logging was no longer a demanding career choice.

The task force is grant funded, with an initial $12,000 grant secured by the PDCCC Regional Workforce Development Center to fund the efforts of developing training programs and resources. Additional grants have been provided by International Paper Foundation and Enviva. The task force is also seeking funds from Gov. McDonnell’s Agricultural and Forestry Industries Development Fund.

This task force on June 7 will sponsor a mini-logging expo at the Regional Workforce Development Center, develop business counseling services for existing and potential loggers, develop a logging resource center at the Workforce Development Center, pursue a truck driver training program and provided career counseling to encourage logging start-ups.

Other task force members include William Snyder with IP, Paul Howe and Shannon Fowler with Virginia Forestry Association, Jim Mooney with Virginia Loggers Association, Randy Fields and Ed Sontag with Enviva, Marc St. John with RockTenn, Scott Barrett with Virginia Tech Sharp Logger Program, Neil Clark with Virginia Tech Extension, Carl Garrison, a state forester, and Randy Betz with the PDCCC Division of Workforce Development.