SC forestry interests plan for largest, oldest industry

While South Carolina welcomed Boeing, one of the world’s leading high-tech manufacturers, the state was dealing with the future of its oldest and still the largest homegrown industry: forestry.

State Forester Gene Kodama

Gene Kodama the head of the South Carolina Forestry Commission spent all day with leaders from what he calls the wood supply chain, ranging from landowners, the building industry, bioenergy, government agencies and legislators. Kodama says it’s a long list of the folks who can make things happen for the state’s number one manufacturing industry. Two economic studies, done at both Clemson and USC, put forestry at almost $17 billion impact on the state, but that was before this recession hit.
“Forestry is the state’s number one manufacturing industry with regard to wages and jobs,” says Kodama, “One of the highest as far as salaries go, which pumps up your per capita income. I understand that our average wage in South Carolina is around $34,000. If you look at the average wage in the forest products industry, it’s around $46,000 give or take.”
And the amount of inventory is growing, in many ways, says State Forester Gene Kodama. It’s measured by his agency and the National Forest Service.”We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have more forest timber than we have had ever since it’s been measured back in 1936. We have more timber, we have more growth than we’ve ever had in this state–both pine and hardwood,” says Kodama.

Stand of pines and hardwoods, Harbison State Forest

“These resources are under-utilized, says Upstate forest landowner Walter McPhail. “With housing starts down, our prices are half what we used to get five years ago, or even three years ago. But our forests keep growing and it’s like a garden, if you don’t weed it, if you don’t fertilize it, it stagnates,” says McPhail.
He’s the president of the Greenville Forestry and Wildlife Society, as well as being a prominent landowner. He says his greatest concern is sustaining this industry for the future.
“So there’s an ample resource out here, we just need to find new markets, new products, new uses. We can grow trees, we can grow timber and we will build houses,” says McPhail.
With inventory at an all-time-high, forestry officials gathered a first-of-its-kind conference  to deal collectively with the ongoing effects of the recession. This recession has put the halt on establishing wood product plants in South Carolina, including one in Clarendon and another bioenergy plant in Newberry.
The forestry meeting held this week focused on ways to create and retain jobs. “What we picked was a number saying let’s work toward $20 billion by 2015. So, say give us about five years to get to about $20 billion and if you do the math around that,that’s going to take about a 3.5 percent compound growth rate. That is in excess of what we understand that Dr. (Doug) Woodward of USC, the economy is probably going to grow about 2.5 percent,” says Kodama.
“That is aggressive,” says Kodama.