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Hardwood Industry – What Will Tomorrow Bring? Pulling Together for a Stronger Future
Globalization, competitive market pressures and emerging business opportunities has led many to realize that the time to pull together for the common good is now.

By Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 10/1/2010

   For years I have heard members of the hardwood industry say that no product is any more beautiful and versatile than wood. But there has been very little collaboration within the numerous facets of the lumber industry, either hardwoods or softwoods. The lumber industry is composed of thousands of companies with varying interests and needs that all rely upon our forest resources for their livelihoods. These companies have very limited collaboration. On the one hand they know they depend upon each other for mutual success, but they also can compete vigorously for timber supply.

            Globalization, competitive market pressures and emerging business opportunities has led many to realize that the time to pull together for the common good is now. Seizing on this momentum, George Barrett, owner of Hardwood Publishing Company in Charlotte, N.C., and his staff began working early in 2010 to bring together leaders from the hardwood industry into a single forum to examine mutual interests.

            Seventy-seven hardwood industry leaders met in Charlotte, N.C. on August 10-11 to identify a common vision for the future of the industry and identify the most pressing barriers and challenges to achieving this vision. Called the Hardwood Leaders Forum, participants represented 25 different segments of the hardwood industry, including landowners, sawmills, secondary users, such as the pallet industry. People came from 24 different states.

            Participants were charged with setting aside past and current differences while they focused on common challenges to be addressed in order to strengthen all or most segments of the hardwood industry. Through pre-forum surveys and on-site deliberations, participants agreed on a vision for the U.S. hardwood industry in 2020. They identified the 21 most significant barriers to achieving the vision.

            The forum representatives agreed upon the following vision. By 2020, they hope three things will happen:

            • American hardwoods will be known, valued, desired, and selected by the global customer for their full breadth of environmental and consumer benefits.

            • The global public will have a positive perception of the American hardwood industry and American hardwood forest management.

            • American hardwood industries will be unified, profitable, sustainable and growing.

            Participants identified 282 unique barriers and challenges to achieving a stronger hardwood industry. Twenty-one barriers and challenges received votes at the end of the forum. Five of these received by far the most votes, ranging from 28.1% to 6.3% of participants. The other 16 vote getters at the end got from eight votes (3.6%) down to one vote.

            By far the two biggest vote getting challenges relate to communication. The top challenge hardwoods face is “American hardwoods lack brand identity in the marketplace” (28.1%). The second largest is “the public believes cutting trees is bad” (24.9%). Many in our industry agree that no matter how good we are as stewards of the land, we have fallen short when it comes to communicating our efforts to others.

            The third challenge they identified (14.9%) was “There is an absence of cooperation and collaboration between hardwood industry members (from landowners through secondary manufacturers) to address major challenges, provide a unified voice, raise funds, and provide effective leadership.”

            Communication between industry leaders is essential to establish the kind of cooperation and collaboration they identified. As a publisher in the forest products industry, we hope to be able to work closer with others more and more with each passing year.

            While not everybody can be knowledgeable about other avenues of the forest products industry, more communication is needed for us to share our common beliefs and needs. We need to build on common ground to protect both shared interests and selected market segments.

            It is important that strong trade associations adequately represent different arms within the hardwood industry. But we should not work in relative isolation. Out of omission or commission, some groups within the hardwood industry have worked competitively against each other. The time has come for us to address common challenges.

            The fourth challenge they identified was the high cost of doing business that makes U.S. hardwoods less competitive. The fifth challenge, related to the fourth, is that the hardwood industry lacks the resources to get its message out consistently and to campaign against anti-industry, environmental messages. The very competitive nature of our industry, due to its fragmented entrepreneurial nature, makes raising funds particularly difficult.

            It is noteworthy that the five highest priority barriers align closely with the three-part vision for the industry’s future. Challenges #1 and #5 relate to achieving better promotion of hardwoods and hardwood products. Challenge #2 relates to public perception concerning the hardwood industry and the environmental values of our products when compared to competing options.

            The public’s perception of the forest products industry, in particular logging and silviculture, is totally incorrect. I can recall the first time that I heard Dr. Patrick Moore speak. Some readers may recall that we carried some of his columns and remarks a number of years ago when he first became known in the forest products industry. While he was one of the founders of Green Peace, he grew to realize that the forest products industry is a good steward of our forests. Dr. Moore once told me that he believes the forest products industry is the closest thing in our society to “true environmentalists.” He learned that we take care of the forests. After all, both our current livelihood and our future depend upon how well we manage the nature under our control. A well-managed forest benefits all of society, including nature itself. We need to do a better job of telling this story if we want the public to support wooden products. No matter how well intentioned we are, it takes money to make things happen.


Making the Vision Come True

            The unanimous endorsement of the vision, goals, and priority ranking of challenges showed that the forum accomplished its dual objectives of uniting attendees around a common vision for the future and identifying and prioritizing challenges to achieve that vision.

            Additional progress in other areas was registered as well. The industry’s lack of cooperation and collaboration was a recurring theme. For those in attendance, great strides were reported towards understanding others’ businesses and issues. The concept of the “American hardwood industry” expanded for attendees. It seems they left the recent forum with a new sense of unity. The times have changed. People are more receptive to working together to tackle common problems than we once were.

            The future of the wooden pallet and hardwood industries are intertwined. We have to pull various aspects of the forest products industry together when appropriate to reach common goals. Our whole industry should focus on being professional and exerting cooperative efforts to properly use our timber resources in the greatest basket of varied products that any industry has to serve societies worldwide.

            Now that issues have been identified and groundwork for solutions has been laid, leaders are planning a second forum in Charlotte on December 7. This “solutions” forum has a four-fold objective:

            • Bring together industry members and practitioners who can help the industry achieve its vision (including academia, trade associations, legislators, bankers, NGOs, and federal and state agency representatives)

            • Identify short and long-term goals to achieve the vision (beyond the broad goals ratified at the first forum).

            • Identify strategies and actions (programs, funding mechanisms, coalitions, etc.) for goal attainment.

            • Establish task groups and identify leadership to follow through on next steps.

            What will happen after this second forum? Some form of action steps will need to be taken if any real solution to our problems is found. We will follow this initial article with a follow-up after the next meeting and strive to keep you informed about action steps that are taken by the hardwood industry down the road.

            Anyone who would like more information about this hardwood industry effort, please contact Dan Meyer at Hardwood Publishing at 800-638-7206 or dan@hardwoodreview.com.

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