ASK A TYPICAL HOOSIER what we make here and you'll hear about vehicles and parts, perhaps pharmaceuticals and orthopedic products, maybe manufactured housing. Ask what we grow here, and they're likely to tell you about corn, perhaps soybeans, probably hogs. As it turns out, though, many Hoosiers can't see the forest for the trees--in particular, wood products.
"It's the largest agricultural industry in the state by far," says Ray Moistner, executive director of the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen's Association, which represents a wide range of businesses involved in wood, from tree growers to sawmills to manufacturers of wood products.
"The economic contribution that our hardwood industry makes to the state would likely surprise many Hoosiers," says Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, pointing out that wood products is Indiana's fourth-largest manufacturing sector. "Indiana ranks No. 1 in the manufacture of wood office furniture and No. 1 in forestry-based businesses."
State economic-development leaders like to build upon Indiana's strengths, and the wood-products industry is no exception. To that end, "we've created a new position within the state government to focus on economic development in relation to the hardwood industry," Skillman says. The new employee will work in partnership with multiple state agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture and the Indiana Economic Development Corp. The hope is to better promote the state's industry and also find ways to collect appropriate federal funding.
Momentum for building jobs out of wood grew following the release about a year ago of a BioCrossroads strategic plan for Indiana's agricultural economy The report opened up a lot of eyes to the impact of the hardwood industry. "It even surprised some within agriculture at the top levels in this state," Skillman says.
The impact of the hardwood-based industry starts with the forests themselves. According to BioCrossroads, Indiana boasts some 4.3 million acres of high-quality hardwood forests. "What's unusual about Indiana is that about 92 percent of that is in private ownership," Moistner says, rather than in state or federal forests that often have tighter restrictions on timber harvesting and tend to draw protests when timber harvests are allowed.
"There are 100,000 different landowners who have viable forest land in Indiana," Moistner says. "One of the key goals of the state Department of Agriculture is to help educate these landowners about the value and marketability of their timber...