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Vermont Forest Products Council (2001-2002)

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The Vermont Forest Products Council (VFPC) was convened in 2001 with 11 members representing state government, natural resource agencies, and wood manufacturers.

VCRD established the VFPC for two reasons:

  1. First, because VCRD is dedicated to the conservation of the open working landscape in Vermont, it sought a direct and significant way to advance the economy that had underpinned and successfully perpetuated the forest landscape. That economy, of the primary (foresters, loggers and mills) and secondary (value-added craftsmen and manufacturers) forest products industry was in serious trouble due to international competition.
  2. Secondly, in 2001, Governor Howard Dean’s Development Cabinet had called for a study of how to promote and advance the value-added forest products industry as one cornerstone of the prosperity of Vermont’s rural communities.

VCRD chose to build a policy council, and ultimately a set of working strategies to advance the secondary value added industry, knowing that the complexity of issues and policy challenges on the primary side could derail a start up effort, and recognizing that success on the secondary side would benefit the primary industry and potentially situate VCRD to convene leadership around issues in that area at a later date.

The council spent two years studying the value-added wood products industry in Vermont. A guiding premise to the Council’s work was the understanding that Vermont’s working landscape of fields, farms and forests is an integral part of both the state’s identity and its long-term economic security.

VREC built a set of clear strategies designed to advance the industry through their collective action and as a platform to draw together state, federal and other resources. See the list of strategies and recommendations in the final report (link below).

Reports and Inputs

Forest Products Council Members

  • Susan Bartlett, State Senator from Lamoille County
  • Tim Copeland, Copeland Furniture
  • Paul Costello, Vermont Council on Rural Development
  • Bill Johnson, State Representative from Canaan
  • Mark Lorenzo, National Wildlife Federation / Northeast Natural Resource Center
  • Conrad Motyka, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation
  • Mary Jeanne Packer, Vermont Wood Manufacturers Association
  • Jeff Parsons, Beeken/Parsons, Inc.
  • Albert Perry, State Representative from Richford
  • Charles Shackleton, Charles Shackleton Furniture
  • Richard Smith, Vermont Department of Economic Development
  • Jonathan Wood, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation
  • Brenda Hauhauer, Forest Products Council

Outcomes

The Vermont Forest Products Council successfully addressed key issues within a targeted policy area and, with appropriate funding obtained following the release of its findings, has made a substantial and measurable impact in the critical economic sector, increasing jobs and sales revenue. A more difficult to measure, but equally important result, is an industry that views itself as a respected and cohesive entity, united under the common umbrella of the Vermont Brand.

Vermont Forest Products Council Results

5 Marketing Recommendations Awarded Funding through $1,000,000 EDA Grant

Grant recipients leverage an additional $500,000 in cash and cost share

Industry is unified around common Vermont Brand

Creation of industry-wide website and improved online presence

Successful studio tour and experiential tourism marketing plan

Technical training and business development assistance provided

National presence at premier trade events

Award winning annual festivals and showcase events

VCRD Findings

  • Secondary industry challenges remain. VCRD was successful in bringing together leaders to provide a major step forward for the secondary forest products economy in Vermont. That industry remains challenged by global competition—on one tour VREC observed workers pulling beds from boxes that had been made in China from wood harvested without environmental safeguards in Russia and manufactured by workers whose hourly pay rate was equivalent to the hourly cost of Workers’ Compensation charges here in Vermont. Versatility and innovation will be essential for the continued success of the industry.
  • Vermont cannot and must not compete for the bottom of the commodity market. Vermont’s forest product resources are of surpassing value; it is essential to the future prosperity of rural Vermont that businesses in the state capture the highest use-value for the material.
  • Vermont has cache, can capture some niche markets, and can build its reputation for design and innovation. Past brand studies document this and point toward the inclusion of creativity and innovation as key marketing messages that Vermont should expand to deepen its brand image.
  • Vermont businesses can work together effectively to maximize the power of the Vermont brand. Cabot Creamery’s generosity to this project was based on the idea that the greater the presence of Vermont branded products in the market, the more consumers think of Vermont, and the more the Vermont identity captures customer imagination. A rising tide of quality branded products floats all boats. The VREC idea in the forest products industry is for each toy, bowl, desk or custom cabinet carrying the Vermont Brand to advertise all others, thereby building market presence that improves sales for all.
  • The primary forest products industry logging companies and mills are the family farms of our forest and deserve the respect and support of Vermont residents. There are significant opportunities in the primary wood sector that could be programmatically developed into the future. This side of the industry is particularly challenged by the mixed perceptions of Vermonters, by international competition, and by the pressures on Vermont ‘s working landscape. This industry is, however, the major steward of the working landscape, and as such, deserves the support and encouragement of Vermonters.
  • Vermont’s forested landscape is threatened. There are tremendous pressures on Vermont’s forests today from parcelization, fragmentation and dispersed housing and commercial development that threaten the state’s working landscape. Economic alternatives to parcelization and development require the viability and prosperity of the forest industry.
  • Primary sector public relations should be improved. The primary forest products industry could benefit from uniting around key brand and public relations messages, and working together to identify and implement key strategies for the future.
  • There are opportunities for linkages and new markets throughout the forest products economy today. VREC recommendations connected to the primary industry cited a need to create market linkages between Vermont landowners, mills, manufacturers, state lands and retail. Also noted were tremendous opportunities for wood use in energy production, the need for timber stand improvement, forest stewardship and education, green certification and use of local wood for State construction.
  • Vermont’s strong conservation ethic will be useful in the ongoing dialogue around wise use of the limited resources, especially as the need for biomass for energy escalates here and in the global marketplace.
  • Successful collaboration builds momentum. Today, after the completion of the EDA forest products grant, many if not all the activities of the industry are continuing; their success has united leadership and earned investments that are ongoing, and the industry is continuing to make significant progress.