Speaker highlights challenges and opportunities in Maine logging industry
FORT KENT, Maine — Dana Doran, executive director of Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, spoke Wednesday morning, April 12, about the recent history of Maine’s forest products industry and what the future may hold.
Doran was on the University of Maine at Fort Kent campus as part of its Board of Visitor’s Business Breakfast speaker series. Prior to joining PLC, he served as director of energy and paper programs at Kennebec Valley Community College and has worked on labor issues in both public and private organizations at the federal and state levels.
“Logging is the backbone of the local economy,” of northern Maine, Doran said in his opening remarks. “Logging contractors and truckers are the lifeblood.”
As a lobbying group that represents contractors “from stump to roadside and on to the mills,” Doran said the PLC is keenly interested in the health and growth of the forest industry in Maine.
The latest figures, according to Doran, indicate that one out of every $20 of the state’s gross domestic product is derived from the forest products industry. This currently accounts for approximately 34,000 jobs and an $8.5 billion economic impact, he said. In 2011, while the economic impact was also $8.5 billion, the number of jobs the sector helped create was 38,000, he noted.
That is down from the recent high, in 2014, of an estimated $9.8 billion impact and 46,000 jobs, Doran commented.
He estimates that the industry lost approximately four million tons of capacity in the past two to three years. “That’s a big number,” Doran said.
Various factors have contributed to this recent downturn, Doran said, including shifting markets and a business climate in the state that some investors see as less than ideal.
There are, however, things to be positive about, Doran said. While some markets have seen a downturn, there are still many places where Maine’s wood products could be sold. When it comes to dimension lumber, the state, situated in the Northeast, is located near the largest market, Doran noted.
The state also has an established forest products industry infrastructure. “Probably the best in the world,” commented Doran.
Although several paper mills have closed in recent years, those that remain are seeing some new investments, Doran pointed out. He noted that $150 million was recently invested at the Woodland Mill in Baileyville and $165 million at a facility in Somerset County.
Doran also told those attending the business breakfast Wednesday that there are other possibilities on the horizon for further investments in Eastport, East Millinocket, Sherman and Searsport.
“There is nothing for sure,” Doran cautioned. “But, there is churning and activity on the horizon for many interesting things.”
The fact that Maine has no holistic plan for guiding the growth of its forest products sector frustrates Doran, he said. When Minnesota created its forestry economy plan recently, Maine was not even listed as one of its competitors.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “We need our own plan for the forest economy.”
UMFK forestry instructor Jeff Dubis said the university has a role to play in addressing the issues discussed at the business breakfast.
“I don’t see the (UMFK forestry) program as being just about training loggers,” Dubis said following the event.
The program works closely with the school’s business program, he noted, so that students have an understanding of a broader economic picture.
The industry is “not just about running equipment,” said Dubis. “Students need to know the science of forestry and the business aspects. There is also a lot technology in the industry now. These harvesters are high tech and have GPS and computers in them.”
Dubis said the university could also play a role in helping the general public better understand what it is loggers and those in the forest industry do, what sorts of training they receive, and why it is important to help maintain and grow the sector.
When asked by an audience member about his take on the Canadian government subsidizing its mills and forest industry, Doran responded that Maine loggers need markets, wherever they are.
“Clearly we want to incentivize U.S. manufacturing,” he said. “But, we also don’t want to put our existing (Canadian) markets at risk.”
Luis Sanclemente, vice president at Acadian Federal Credit Union, asked Doran if the PLC has looked at the effect out-migration has had on the ability to sustain logging industry growth.
Although the PLC has not looked at that issue specifically, Doran said the group understands that maintaining healthy and vibrant rural communities is part of what will enable Maine’s forest products industry to thrive.
“We need to find ways to convince contractors to come to and stay in these communities,” Doran said.
“The capital is there,” Sanclemente said. “It’s just waiting on the sidelines.”