Summary of Business – FRA 2023 Annual Meeting
FRA’s 89th Annual Meeting, in conjunction with the Southcentral Region Spring Meeting, took place May 8-10 and drew 190 members and friends to Point Clear, AL, for committee work, educational sessions, and the governance decisions that will guide the Association through the coming year. The presentations we have permission to share are linked in this summary and can also be found on the Resources page of the FRA website forestresources.org. You will need to be signed in as a member to access the presentations; for assistance with access, please email Vanessa Connelly at [email protected]. For those in attendance, we ask you to please take a few minutes to complete a short meeting SURVEY – your feedback is important as we plan future FRA events.
The FRA Annual Meeting began with remarks by special guest Senator Katie Britt (R-AL). Senator Britt, former Chief of Staff to Senator Shelby, serves on the Appropriations Committee and as the ranking member on the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. Senator Britt also serves on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and the Senate Rules Committee.
The Senator spoke of her journey to running for office and the difficult decisions and sacrifices she and her husband made as part of that journey. Senator Britt is the youngest female Republican Senator to serve in the U.S. Senate and the first female Senator to represent Alabama. Senator Britt then spoke on issues facing Americans, addressing the need to reduce government spending and citing the 31.7 trillion-dollar debt the U.S. currently has and the projected deficit to rise, under current spending, to $50 trillion in the next ten years.
Senator Britt also spoke of the President’s budget proposal that supports increased regulation of businesses. She cited that the President’s proposed budget increases the EPA’s budget by nearly 20 percent while decreasing funding for the Department of Homeland Security despite the ongoing border crisis, which will worsen upon the expiration of Title 42. The Senator additionally spoke on the broader issues of social media’s influence on young children and the increase in fentanyl overdoses by young adults, stating these are real issues that need to be resolved in a bipartisan manner.
Finally, Senator Britt spoke about the issues she will focus on that will impact FRA members, including WOTUS, Endangered Species Act reform, and work to support FRA farm bill initiatives, including full funding for the Forest Inventory and Analysis program and innovative wood products.
Over the course of the FRA Annual Meeting, members heard insights from a slate of dynamic speakers:
- Craig Lorraine, Senior Vice President, Fiber and Sustainability Operations, Enviva, spoke about the challenges and opportunities facing Enviva. He discussed Enviva’s recent quarterly report, which unfortunately fell below expectations, with the decision to eliminate dividend payments resulting in a substantial decrease in Enviva’s stock price. Lorraine stated the outlook for the company is good as they have long-term contracts in place for their product, and the focus remains on company growth. High fiber prices currently present a challenge for the company, as for others in the forest products industry.
- Jeffrey Rosensweig, Associate Professor of International Business and Finance, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, provided an outlook on the U.S. and global economy and its implications. He expressed that the economy has made a comeback since the Covid pandemic; however, retail sales remain a concern, which, since January 2021, have increased in nominal terms of dollars but have declined in real terms (inflation). Rosensweig stated that the best economy the U.S. had experienced was just before the onset of the pandemic, and that the U.S. economy may be already in a recession spurred by high inflation, supply chain challenges, increasing energy costs, and labor shortages in trucking and warehousing. The Federal Reserve has attempted to make money scarce by hiking interest rates, increasing interest rates ten times in 60 weeks. Rosensweig stated that high-interest rates and a large national debt are a terrible combination. The professor also expressed concerns about the trillions of dollars put into the economy by the Inflation Reduction Act, stating this influx was not needed to spur the economy as it was already recovering from the pandemic, and that the impacts of government spending will affect the U.S. economy for many years. Rosensweig additionally pointed out that healthcare is the fastest-growing sector in terms of jobs in the U.S., growing nearly 65% since 2021. Manufacturing jobs have seen a 25% decrease over the same period. He closed by noting his concern about community banks failing and being absorbed by larger banks.
- Chris Isaacson, President and CEO of the Alabama Forestry Association, presented on ForestryWorks, the forest workforce training institute founded in Alabama in 2018, which has now expanded into Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The goal is to educate and train students, parents, and the general public on sustainable forestry operations and forest industry careers. The outcome is to have a pipeline of qualified workers across the country for generations to come. To learn more about how you can join in this effort, CLICK HERE.
- Courtney Briggs, Senior Director of Government Affairs, American Farm Bureau Federation, provided a review of Waters of the U.S. and the implications of the new rule.
- Leon Sequeira, Attorney, LRS Law, and former Assistant Secretary of Labor at the DOL, reviewed the DOL’s proposed Independent Contractor rules and the impact on forestry contractors and the industry as a whole.
- Dr. Charlie Blinn, Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, and Dr. Joe Conrad, Associate Professor, Forest Operations, University of Georgia, presented an analysis of potential threats to wood supply chain efficiency, and specifically, the logging capacity issue.
- Jimmy Parnell, President & CEO., Alfa Insurance Companies, & President, Alabama Farmers Federation, discussed the importance of having a strong advocacy voice and grassroots political engagement to advance policies for our industry.
FRA’s National Committees and the THATS Foundation met, developing recommendations based on these presentations and other reports.
National Public Policy/Advocacy Committee
The National Public Policy and Advocacy Committee convened with a presentation from Courtney Briggs with the American Farm Bureau Federation, who discussed the implications of the Biden Administration WOTUS rule that went into effect on March 20, 2023. The new rule expands the federal authority to designate waters under Federal jurisdiction. The vagueness of the new rule provides too much authority to the agencies in determining WOTUS. Recent court challenges have repealed the rule in 24 states. These states will be subject to the Trump administration’s rule. The remaining 26 states will be subject to the Biden administration’s rule. Briggs stated that this complicates things across the country. Ultimately the Supreme Court will decide the role of the Federal Government in designating waters under federal jurisdiction. Ms. Briggs cited a case currently being heard by the Supreme Court that challenges the government’s authority to designate WOTUS. The decision on this case will be made before June 2023.
Colleen Miller with Sennebogen then informed meeting attendees about government grants that may be available to purchase electric log-handling equipment. The Committee then wrapped up with a brief business meeting.
National Operations Committee
The National Operations Committee Meeting featured a presentation titled “Logging Capacity: Looming Threat or (Another) False Alarm.” Drs. Charlie Blinn (University of Minnesota) and Joe Conrad (University of Georgia) presented an overview of logging capacity in the U.S., shared obstacles to building and maintaining logging capacity, discussed the impact of rising prices on operations, and provided recommendations for ensuing Operations Committee roundtable discussion to identify potential FRA action items. Their recommendations to the Committee included: enhance supplier relationships, better understand how cost increases impact suppliers, build or enhance knowledge and skills (i.e. – Timber Harvesting and Procurement Short Course, Logging Cost Analysis Workshops, Supplier-Consumer Forums, etc.), support FRA policy initiatives (especially transportation and workforce development), and support relevant research (consistent funding for supply chain research and focus on status of suppliers in the Appalachian, Northeast, and Western Regions).
National Supplier/Consumer Relations Committee
The Committee heard from attorney Leon Sequeira with LRS Law, who spoke about proposed changes in federal rules that govern Independent Contractor status. The proposed rules, currently sitting at the Department of Labor, add complexity and confusion in understanding what makes someone an employee or an independent contractor. This is obviously a critical distinction for the forest products industry, where so much work is conducted by independent contractors.
The Biden Administration’s Department of Labor has proposed new rules, not yet adopted, that propose a 7-prong test to determine what businesses operate as independent contractors:
- Opportunity for profit or loss depending on managerial skill
- Investments by the worker and the employer
- Degree of permanence of the work relationship
- Nature and degree of control
- Extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business
- Skill and initiative
- Additional factors
It isn’t clear how each of these factors would be weighed, and the troubling “additional factors” obviously opens up scrutiny to any part of a business relationship. FRA provided comments on these rules, and if and when rules are adopted, this Committee will look for opportunities to provide guidance to our members.
The Committee then discussed a proposal by the Western Region for a training program for FRA members focused on Recruiting and Retaining Entry Level Employees. This training is targeted toward
small and medium-sized businesses (though open to all) in FRA’s membership, providing them the opportunity to develop recruitment and retention strategies and help support the entire forest industry supply chain. This training comes with a cost – between $4,900 and $6,500 to train up to 80 people, depending upon the number of instructors. After some discussion, the Committee endorsed this proposal and recommended the Board allocate up to $6,500 for this effort, which meets a need for so many of our members.
National Timber Harvesting and Transportation Safety Foundation
The National Timber Harvesting and Transportation Safety (THATS) Foundation met to review the financial status of the foundation, and the future of funding was discussed. Nate Clark, Global Director, Corporate Social Responsibility, John Deere & President, John Deere Foundation, met with a subcommittee of the THATS Foundation earlier in the year to offer his thoughts on helping the foundation raise support. John Deere agreed to donate $10,000 to the foundation, and Nate will help the foundation leadership as they consider future funding options. Additionally, the group reviewed the ‘Six Lifesaving Rules for Logging’ and agreed to support the initiative. A sub-committee of Wes Miller, Steve Barnett, and Jeff Jenkins will look at the best way to roll out this important program to promote and improve logging safety. Finally, the group reviewed the THATS Mission Statement and voted to reaffirm it as is.
Through the online and live auctions, almost $14,000 was raised for the foundation, in addition to the $10,000 donation by John Deere. Thank you to all who donated and bid, and Richard Schwab for being an outstanding auctioneer!
National Awards Dinner
During the May 9 National Awards Dinner, FRA President Deb Hawkinson was recognized ahead of her retirement later this year. Deb was thanked for her years of service and dedication to both FRA and the industry.
Amy Juliana, Science and Technology Manager with the Society of American Foresters, was recognized as the 2023 National Technical Writing Award winner for her Technical Release “National Forest Products Week Essay Contest.”
Mark Byler, Wes Miller, and Andrew Miller with A.M. Logging Inc. of Milheim, PA, were recognized as the 2023 National Outstanding Logger award recipients and presented with a plaque and check by Doug Hollis, Territory Manager, STIHL Southeast, Inc. STIHL has generously sponsored this award for over 30 years. Wes Miller noted they would donate the check to their local Log A Load For Kids chapter.
Board of Directors Meeting
At the May 10 Board of Directors Meeting, attendees:
- Reviewed FRA’s financial performance over the past fiscal year and approved the FY 2023-2024 budget. FRA remains in a strong financial position with a growing membership and healthy reserves.
- Heard the report from the May 8 FRA Executive Committee Meeting, including an overview of the work of the association this past year. This included successes on the public policy front, developments in membership communications, a summary of FRA’s strong region activity, the continued success of the Emerging Leader program, and a membership report reviewing the eleven new member companies since May 2022. (FRA has had 48 new members join since the start of the pandemic.)
- Reviewed reports from FRA’s National Committees and the THATS Foundation.
- Heard the Meetings Advisory Group report on upcoming meetings: FRA’s Fall Meeting will be in conjunction with a Legislative Fly-In, September 26-28, at The Phoenix Park Hotel, Washington, DC. The 2024 Annual Meeting will be held at the Westin Nashville in Nashville, TN, from April 29 to May 1. Please mark your calendar and plan to attend.
FRA Southcentral Region Spring Meeting
The Southcentral Region (SCR) Spring Meeting took place ahead of the Annual Meeting on May 8, with SCR Steering Committee Chair James Edelen (LP) honoring the region’s award recipients. Dr. Eric McConnell, Assistant Professor at Mississippi State University, was on hand to accept the 2023 Technical Writing Award for his Technical Release titled “Inflation and Logging in the South,” which discusses several inflation indexes and compares them to annual averages for the harvest margin for pine sawlogs in the Southern US. Michael and Cari Pinnell were also in attendance to accept the 2023 SCR Outstanding Logger Award on behalf of Pinnell Logging Inc., based in Henderson, TX.
The SCR Spring Meeting also featured a strong line-up of speakers. Todd Martin, President/CEO of the Southern Loggers Cooperative, delivered an excellent presentation titled “Minimizing the Effects of Moving Fuel Markets .” His talk provided a historical overview of the Southern Loggers Cooperative and discussed many of the driving factors behind fluctuations in fuel pricing. The Technical Session concluded with a panel discussion, “On Campus & Beyond: Solidifying the Bond Between Universities and the Forest Products Industry,” led by FRA Emerging Leader participant Jo Daniel (IP). Drs. Dale Greene (Georgia), Tom Gallagher (Auburn), and Eric McConnell (Mississippi State) discussed strategies to recruit students, ways to maximize the mutual benefit of student internships, and strengthening the connection between our land grant institutions and the forest products industry.
Continuing Education Credits
The combined FRA 2023 Southcentral Region and Annual Meetings were approved for 8.5 Category 1 SAF CFE credits, and sign-in sheets have been submitted to the SAF national office. Please reach out if you have questions regarding obtaining credit for your meeting attendance.
Thank you to the FRA 2023 Annual Meeting sponsors – this meeting would not have been possible without your financial support. This was a record year for sponsorship, and we are incredibly thankful for your support.