Don’t overlook existing industry

Published 12:08 pm Saturday, July 21, 2012

The recent announcement that Airbus would build a $600 million aircraft assembly plant at the Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile was indeed great news. The big European aircraft company will employ 1,000 workers at full capacity and is slated to deliver its first airplanes in 2016.

As glad as we are to see one of the major aircraft companies in the world locating in our state, we hope that the state and local officials who are doing a great job recruiting new industry to Alabama don’t lose sight of Alabama’s existing industries, including ours.

Despite the depressed forestry economy, Alabama’s forest industry has been and remains a major engine driving Alabama’s economy.

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There are some 670 forest products manufacturing operations in Alabama – at least one in every county. There are 100 sawmills, 17 pulp and paper mills, 26 veneer and/or panel plants, and approximately 500 secondary wood processing operations.

This makes forest products the second largest manufacturing industry in Alabama, producing $12.78 billion in 2010 with value-added of some $6.45 billion. In fact, forestry produces 12.3 percent of the value of all manufacturing in Alabama and is 9 percent of the state’s GDP.

What does this look like on paper?

Jobs: direct 46,800; payroll $1.69 billion (second largest manufacturing payroll). Some 18 percent of all manufacturing jobs are forestry-related. The industry also produces 102,000 indirect jobs. This means that 7 percent of all Alabamians are directly or indirectly employed in forest-related jobs. Forestry also produces 8 percent of all Alabama exports.

In fact, the forest products industry is second to none when it comes to recycling dollars through Alabama’s economy. Consider this example. One east Alabama plant produces packaging for customers throughout the Southeast. That plant employs Alabama workers and uses paper produced by an Alabama mill. That mill’s Alabama workers use trees delivered by Alabama truckers, harvested by Alabama loggers that are grown by Alabama landowners. Notice any common theme here?

As I stated at the beginning, it is great that Airbus is investing $600 million in our state. But over the last 20 years, the forest industry has averaged $400 million per year in new plants, expansions, and modernizations. That’s a 20 year total of $8 billion, with a B!

Even in the middle of one of the worst forestry economies in modern times, in 2011 there were 24 announcements of new and expanding forestry businesses with a capital investment of $161.3 million and 566 new jobs.

So, while we celebrate this recent huge announcement for Mobile, we trust that state and local leaders will not forget that our industry and many others have been producing and maintaining jobs for our great state for many, many years.

Chris Isaacson

Executive Vice-President

Alabama Forestry Association