The Return of FRA’s Forest Forum
After being postponed for over a year due to COVID restrictions, the FRA Northeast Region resumed the Forest Forum, a monthly dinner meeting that brings together the entire forest industry supply chain. Held on the first Thursday of each month near Bangor, Maine, the Forest Forum is an opportunity for loggers, foresters, wood-using industries, and others to connect, share a meal, and get informed on the latest issues facing the forest industry.
At the December Forum, three companies developing new wood-using industries gave updates on their projects and what it might mean for markets in the Northeast. Presentations were provided by representatives of Maine Plywood, Standard Biocarbon, and Dirigo Building Science Engineers (a company looking to use cross-laminated timber in construction projects). It was great to see energy and enthusiasm for new investment and expanded markets.
The first guest speaker was Max Echeverria of Eskuad, a Chilean-based technology company developing a data platform for industries that operate in areas without cell service. In Maine, that’s forestry (and fishing, but they have their own dinner). The company is participating in a 3-month business accelerator through Techstars at the Roux Institute in Portland, Maine. Max shared how his company is currently working with forestry and mining companies in Chile and how their technology may be applied to how we operate in the Northeast. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear from someone building a tool that can support our activities and for him to get feedback from potential users.
The next speaker was Brian Whitney, President of the Maine Technology Institute. Brian spoke about the Forestry Recovery Initiative, where Maine has allocated about $6 million of federal funding to help Maine loggers, foresters, and sawmills recover from any losses they suffered during the pandemic. This provided an opportunity for individuals to learn about the funding opportunity and ask questions. Some good hypothetical examples were generated and discussed so that people could get a sense of how they might qualify for funding and what it can be used for. Brian also previewed upcoming funding – to be announced in early 2022 – which will support the development of new or expanded markets for forest products.
Finally, I gave a brief presentation on labor market challenges and what is behind them. Using data at both the national and state level, it is clear that employers in rural Maine will face increasing challenges recruiting, training, and retaining a workforce. Some of this is demographic – Maine has more older and fewer young residents than the national average. We’re also seeing population declines in a number of rural counties, which creates challenges for the forest industry. On the positive side, working in the forest industry has some of the characteristics that people entering the workforce say they are looking for:
- a strong sense of purpose and company mission,
- a robust culture that supports mentorship and growth, and
- opportunities for continued training and professional development.
Several forestry students from the University of Maine were in attendance, and were able to provide great feedback on how the forest industry can better tell its story and attract people to the profession.
FRA members and guests were happy to get back to in-person Forums, and the Northeast Region will be hosting them on January 6, February 3, March 3, and April 7 (hopefully a cookout at a mill). If you want to receive emails about activities in FRA’s Northeast Region, you can sign up here.