Forest Industries Getting More Critical

Figures just in from the 2011 U.S. Census show Wisconsin’s forests aren’t just growing trees, they are growing jobs, with nearly 60,000 people working in forest-related positions statewide in about 1,300 businesses.

And with its first graduating class receiving their diplomas in just a few weeks, Northcentral Technical College’s new wood tech center in Antigo is beginning to play a key role

“Wisconsin continues to lead the nation in the value of forest products produced, demonstrating how our forests are the foundation of one of Wisconsin’s most important economic sectors,” Paul DeLong, chief forester for the Department of Natural Resources, said. “Though the sustainable harvesting of timber can be visually concerning to some right after harvest, the resulting values include not only wood products but habitat for some highly desired wildlife and a healthy, growing forest that will produce an array of benefits long into the future.”

Travis Allen, instructor for NTC’s wood tech program, said the cooperative effort between the tech school, Langlade County, city of Antigo and private industries was developed with just that goal in mind.

“Just last week we had three regional industries contact us,” Allen said. “They were looking for just the type of skilled employees we train through this program.”

The first 16 students to complete the program will graduate in May, Allen added, and “there are employees out there who are anxious to hire them.”

The data also indicate the forest products industry has held its own during the economy’s recent ride on the roller coaster.

“Significantly, the forest product industry’s importance as a percentage of manufacturing has stayed roughly the same as before the downturn,” Roger Nacker, an economist and president of the Wisconsin Economic Development Institute, said.

Nacker analyzes economic reports for the DNR Division of Forestry.

Steven Hubbard, DNR forest products services specialist, noted the growth in the forest products industry is good news for the entire state. For starters, last year the 2010 U.S. Census figures showed the industry had about 56,500 employees. The newly released figures show an industry job growth to 58,136.

Add to that a growth in the value of shipments to $19 billion – up from about $17 billion in 2010.

“This is why Wisconsin’s forests are the foundation of one of the most diverse economic sectors – and one of the strongest,” Hubbard said.

Wisconsin’s forest industry includes firms in the North American Industry Classification System, wood and wood products sector, and the furniture and fixtures and the paper and allied products sectors. Add to that the 270 firms in forestry and logging with a payroll of more than $27 million and 800 employees. Nursery and tree production also are in addition to these numbers.

The forest products industry also supports thousands of related jobs, including those producing specialized machinery for the forest products and paper industries.

Overall, the industry contributes about $2.6 billion annually in wages to the Wisconsin economy, and supports about $228,000 in state and local taxes.

“We are a leader,” Allen stressed. “Wisconsin is Americas Dairyland, but we are also America’s forest products leader.”

A student at Northcentral Technical College's Wood Technology Center works on a machine.