FRA’s Commitment to Member Engagement:  Tales from the “First in Forestry” State


In 2023, I began having conversations with some FRA members in North Carolina about hosting several National Office Staff for a complete wood supply chain tour. Consider it a “one-stop shop” visit designed to provide maximum exposure in the most efficient format possible. I have some experience arranging similar tours for international guests, so I immediately knew where to turn to get the ball rolling and enlist help in developing an itinerary. A quick phone call to Dr. John Hatcher, Executive Director – North Carolina Forestry Association (NCFA), and Tony Doster, Atlantic Region Manager – Resource Management Service (RMS), and the plan was in motion.  

Last week, Keith Gray (FRA President) and Vanessa Connelly (FRA Communications and Marketing Manager) coordinated their schedules to make the short trip to North Carolina to learn more about and interact with all sectors of the wood supply value chain. Their journey began with member meetings in Raleigh to discuss many of the concerns, problems, and issues impacting the collective forest products industry and learn more about potential solutions underway to address these challenges. 

These meetings also provided a great preview of what was in store for the remainder of the week. A special thanks to NCFA Staff (John Hatcher, Mike Powell, Jessica Ireland & Abigail Ridge), Bill Dine (Forestry Mutual Insurance Co.), Nancy Thompson (Weyerhaeuser), Brad Young (Enviva), and Adam Ricci (Egger) for your input and participation. We value your time and greatly appreciate your support of FRA.

As President of FRA, it’s vital for both myself and our team to maintain a direct connection with our members in their own backyards. Our visit to Raleigh was a great opportunity to hear from individuals from member companies across the wood supply chain, such as NCFA, Forestry Mutual Insurance Co., Weyerhaeuser, Enviva, and Egger. My dedication to visiting our members throughout the forest products industry isn’t just about hearing what they’re doing—it’s about witnessing firsthand the daily challenges they confront and experiencing the professionalism and unwavering commitment to safety in their workplace, be it the woods or the mills.- Keith Gray

The next stop on our itinerary – Wilmington, NC! We were greeted in sunny (and pleasantly warm) Wilmington by our hosts for the day – Resource Management Service LLC (RMS). Tony Doster and Courtney Swanson arranged an outstanding supply chain tour for the afternoon. Highlights included a driving tour of the green swamp for an up close and personal view of all the area had to offer. We had the opportunity to learn more about site prep and the bedding process, watch tree planting activities and interact with H-2B workers, visit a first-thinning and clearcut harvesting operation, and discuss overall forest management throughout our afternoon. Later that evening, we were also able to spend some quality time with our Weyerhaeuser friends Jocelyn Wilson and John Minter. It was a full and productive day!

“As the Communications Manager overseeing FRA’s messaging, it’s essential for me to dive deep into the heart of our members’ work. Witnessing the rugged but precise dance of huge machinery working together in the woods and the grit of truck drivers transporting logs to the mills isn’t just about observing—it’s about immersing myself in the essence of our forest products industry. Hearing Shane Moore (SKJ Moore Logging, LLC & C. Moore Trucking, LLC) share a generational tale of logging heritage and the aspirations he holds for his grandson’s future involvement or conversing with the dedicated H-2B workers diligently planting seedlings reinforces the profound impact of sustainable forestry on families and communities. Having the opportunity to learn from industry experts like Tony Doster and Courtney Swanson, who graciously shared their wealth of knowledge from forest to mill, was a transformative experience.”-Vanessa Connelly.

Later in the week, the FRA Team visited West Fraser and was treated to a fantastic tour of their Armour sawmill. It was beneficial to visit a major sawtimber market in the Southern Coastal Plain of North Carolina and learn more about their log optimization, lumber production, drying process, and residual markets. 

Thank you, Randle Faulk and Jay Wilson! We enjoyed our visit and learned a lot!

Later that evening, we had the pleasure of meeting with TEAM Safe Trucking’s current President, Bob Lussier (owner of FRA member company Great Woods Companies.) Bob shared the organization’s continued commitment to elevating the standard and performance of the American forest industry’s log trucking sector through educational opportunities, continuous training, and fostering a community that is dedicated to safety. We discussed ideas on future collaboration and ways FRA can help promote and advance TEAM Safe Trucking.  

Finally, to round out our industry consumer checklist, we received an excellent overview and tour of IP’s Riegelwood mill. Matt Morgan and Kevin Driscoll were exceptional hosts and helped to ensure our trip was a complete success.

“Our visit to the Riegelwood mill made a profound impression. Hearing Matt and Kevin discuss International Paper’s steadfast commitment to sustainability and efficiency was enlightening. Exploring the mill’s rich history and its enduring influence on generations of employees and the local community highlighted the significance of their operations. Through their compelling video presentation, I witnessed their journey from diversification to a focused approach, prioritizing sustainability and efficiency. Learning about the critical role of pulpwood and its global applications, including in products like diapers and feminine hygiene items, expanded my understanding of the mill’s broader impact. This experience deepened my appreciation for the delicate balance between innovation, sustainability, and societal impact in the forestry industry.” -Vanessa Connelly.

I am also proud to report that we were able to introduce Vanessa to two quality dining establishments in the South – Waffle House and Bojangles! All in a single trip! A week well spent!

It was a pleasure getting to spend quality time with my FRA teammates last week and play a role in introducing them to some of our valuable members in the Southeastern Region. We are committed to listening to our members and hearing their concerns. And what better way to engage our members than to give them a forum to express their feedback than a personal visit? 

It is a win-win proposition for FRA and our collective membership. So, be on the lookout for an FRA visit in the future. You never know where our travels will take us next!