Last week, I took a road trip in preparation for the field visits of the Lake States Region Fall meeting. My travels took me through the scenic backroads of northern Wisconsin.
My first stop was in Hayward, WI, where I had dinner with a few FRA members. Our discussions that evening were far ranging as we talked about the many changes we all had experienced in our careers. The central topic of our conversation focused on how forest practices have improved over the years with the development of BMPs and Forest Management Guidelines, logger training and education programs, and the evolution of third-party forest certification programs. We also discussed the current challenges facing the industry including the forest resources of the region, struggles of the regions paper sector, an aging logging workforce, and growing concerns about truck driver availability. We did not solve all the problems that night, but we did learn a good deal from each other.
The second day of my trip included visits to the future field stops of the FRA LSR Fall Meeting beginning with Kretz Lumber located in Antigo, WI. As I pulled into Kretz Lumber, I was awestruck by the perfectly sorted saw logs throughout the yard, each pile having its own set purpose and value. I met Al Koeppel, the lead forester and a 35-year employee at Kretz Lumber, who took me through the facility as we discussed wood quality. He told me that he is working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on improving silviculture practices for hardwood management. He wants the DNR to understand that larger logs are not necessarily better, even for a quality saw log mill. The larger (older) the tree grows, the more it is subject to many defects which diminish the log quality. He had sorted some of these large logs out of the pile to use as an educational prop. As I toured the facility and watched the process of sawing and sorting, I met many employees, all of whom were clearly very proud of their workplace.
I then visited McCoy Construction and Forestry at their recently built facility in Merrill, WI. Matt Hanson of McCoy walked me through the building and talked about how it was designed to meet customers’ needs, from sales to training to service, and described how the facility was built for growth in the region. During the FRA visit here in the fall, the McCoy team will provide a presentation on some of the newest technology that is being installed in their logging equipment. This technology promises to assist foresters and loggers in becoming more efficient in their woods operations.
One of my favorite stops of the day was at the Northwestern Technical College located in Antigo, WI. The college has established an educational program that prepares students to become professionals in the forest products industry. Located on campus is a $1.5 million, 27,000 square-foot Wood Technology Center of Excellence. Here students engage in a unique hands-on experience using the latest design software and cutting-edge manufacturing equipment. Curricula include material science, product design, and engineering, quality assurance, manufacturing, and business. Graduates of this program are in high demand both locally and nationally.
On my travel from Wausau back to Cloquet, MN, I reflected on my road trip. One of the things that struck me was the wealth of experience I encountered. During the dinner discussions of the first day, more than 100 years of forest industry experience was at the table. Over two days of travel, I conversed with individuals who collectively had more than 200 years of experience with the forest products industry. The value of these conversations is immeasurable.
The FRA LSR Fall Meeting offers learning opportunities on the emerging issues of the regions resource availability and logging infrastructure, and reviews programs that will provide information on truck driver training, Team Safe Trucking, and hiring a veteran workforce. The meeting will also provide an opportunity to learn from your colleagues during the networking opportunities available throughout the event. I encourage you to bring a “new” hire or younger team member of your organization, so they can learn from this wealth of experience that will be present.
Below is a brief summary of the topics to be addressed at the FRA LSR Fall Meeting.
- Lake States Region Resource Overview and Growth Opportunities. Peter Coutu of Forest2Market will discuss the region’s timber resource situation, and opportunities for forest products industry growth in the Lake States.
- Training Truck Drivers. The United States is facing a truck driver shortage. The American Trucking Association estimates nearly 900,000 new drivers will be needed over the next decade. Karl Pinter of the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) will discuss the targeted program of the CVTC to train future truck drivers.
- TEAM Safe Trucking (TST). In the last 5 years, insurance costs for specialized trucking (logging) have more than doubled. TST has developed a Forestry Transportation Training Program for forestry transportation professionals. Some of the objectives of this program are to improve safety and lower insurance rates for forestry transportation businesses. Miranda Gowell from TEAM Safe Trucking will present information about this successful program.
- Logger Business Survey for Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. A successful wood supply chain is dependent on a healthy and viable logging workforce. For the first time, these States have combined survey methodologies to gather the latest information on the region’s logging businesses. Professor Charlie Blinn, University of Minnesota; and Professor Mark Rickenbach, University of Wisconsin will discuss the current profile of the logging business in the Lake States.
- Training of New Foresters. Professor Michael Demchick, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, will discuss the development of methods to teach students to mark timber better, faster and with more confidence in their decisions. He will discuss the basics of a new Timber Marketing Certificate that will be offered at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
- WI Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA): Talent Attraction Initiative. The experience and education gained in the military is an excellent basis for any business, regardless of the specific industry or field served. Steve Janke from the WDVA will discuss the agency’s Talent Attraction Initiative to place veterans in the workforce.