More of South Carolina is covered with standing timberland – than since colonial times. That’s can be good news for the state’s economy- says State Forester Gene Kodama. The SC Forestry Commission, a state agency, and the SC Forestry Association, a private organization made up of industry leaders and landowners, are partnering to move forestry’s economic impact from $17 billion to $20 billion by the year 2015. They are calling this the “20/15 project.”
Commission spokesman Scott Hawkins says “forestry is big business in this state” :
But it needs to be tended to, especially in times of economic strife that we’ve seen. One area of emphasis is retaining and strengthening the forest industry, utilizing our record high levels of timber volume that we have in this state. We have more standing timber now than we have had at any other time in our recorded history.
Getting the impact to $20 billion a year would create an extra 12,000 well-paying jobs, according to industry advocates, who are now holding a series of conferences to grow this aspect of agribusiness which is considered the state’s top manufacturing sector when it comes to jobs and salaries. At the same time, the forestry agency’s money has been cut 45 percent in the past two years.
State Forester Kodama says regarding protection of timberland–and lives—that the state is at very high risk:
And the stakes are mounting due to aging equipment and reduced numbers of firefighters. The severe reduction in wildfire protection capacity, increases in forest fuels, and growing numbers of homes in forested settings are setting the state up for a disastrous situation when the mild, wet wildfire conditions we have experienced recently come to an end and return to average or worse.
Hawkins and Kodama have thanked lawmakers for restoring $1.6 million in Forestry Commission funding – that was cut by the governor in a series of budget vetoes. Hawkins says that action shows that the state is serious about attracting timber-related industries.
A good example of how the forestry sector impacts the state’s economic growth is the recent announcement of First Quality Tissue manufacturing coming to Anderson. That’s a $1 billion investment (yes, one billion). Tim Adams of the forestry commission recruits such industries:
This is exactly what the “20/15” program is all about–strengthening our existing industry while trying to recruit new, compatible companies to the state.
First Quality is a value-added product. South Carolina is very strong in primary products where we take roundwood logs and convert them to lumber or paper products, but then you have a company (like First Quality) that adds value to that.
Mike Shealey, the Senate Finance Committee Budget Director, Senator Hugh Leatherman, and Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor give high praise to the 20/15 goal.
State forestry industry task forces will issue an interim report in August and a final report during the SC Forestry Association’s Annual Meeting in November.