From the Desk of the Executive Director: Our Forest Product Industry

September 1, 2022

I just returned from the International Woodworking Fair (IWF) in Atlanta, where I had the privilege of representing the Greenbrier Valley, the WV Hardwood Alliance Zone, and the great state of West Virginia.  IWF attracts thousands of attendees from around the world to the Georgia World Conference Center and is North America’s largest wood technology and design tradeshow.  With more than 900 exhibitors spread over 1.5 million square feet of space, the IWF was a dream for small and large wood product makers and manufacturers alike.  And it was a great reminder of the importance of the forest products industry in the Greenbrier Valley.

West Virginia is the third most forested state in the nation.  From our 12 million acres of forestland and 75 billion of board feet of timber we create a number of products – lumber, building materials such as flooring, molding and trim, furniture and cabinets, rustic rail fence, high-quality bourbon barrels, and more.  From forest to end user, the industry relies on foresters, loggers and truckers for delivered raw and finished materials. The Greenbrier Valley is blessed to have a robust forest product industry and we are proud to serve the businesses who are making this industry thrive.

The WV Hardwood Alliance Zone, (WV HAZ) a group of 12 counties in the heart of West Virginia’s premiere hardwood region, is designed to provide a competitive advantage to support business development in the wood and wood product industry.  County Commissions pay dues into this marketing group, and each county’s economic development director serves on the WV HAZ board.  The group works collectively to promote and support our current companies in the forestry and wood product space, while attracting complementary companies to the area.  Pocahontas and Greenbrier Counties are both members of this association.

Some facts from the WV HAZ region:

  • In 2020 forest products in the region made direct economic contributions of $978 million in sales, 4,674 jobs, $451 million in value-added products, and $286 million in employee compensation.
  • In 2021, there were nearly 400 active forest products and support companies in the HAZ region, ranging from primary sawmills to cabinet makers to flooring companies.
  • For every 1 job directly within the forest product industry in the HAZ region, an additional .37 jobs was supported indirectly in the broader economy. 
  • Of the 164 mills currently manufacturing lumber and other wood products across the state, almost 60% are currently located in the 12-county HAZ region. Of the 31 sawmills currently operating in West Virginia, 19 are located in the HAZ region.

WV HAZ board members travel to trade shows to promote the region’s industry.  My work with this group is what allowed me to travel to Atlanta and talk to dozens of companies that are interested in partnering with our current producers, as well as a few that are interested in finding out what a new business home in WV could look like. Leads from the conference are distributed to WV’s current producers, in hope that they find new markets, new contracts, or new suppliers.

The WV Hardwood Alliance Zone is home to more than 400 wood producers, manufacturers, loggers, truckers and other supporting companies and has an online directory here.  If you should be on this list but aren’t – please let us know.

One of the best parts of the show was connecting with local companies as they exhibited or attended to make improvements and connections for their own business.  Woodtech Machines, a Greenbrier County company, exhibited their quality customized woodshop machines and expertise in the industry.  NWH is a national supplier of hardwood products with more than 40 sites across the nation, several in WV, and one in Marlinton adjacent to our Industrial Park.  We saw folks from Inter-State Hardwoods, one of Pocahontas County’s largest quality hardwood producers.  And though I missed the drop by – Monroe County was represented by Wiley Woodworks, a reputable shop in Peterstown.  

I’m always a proud West Virginian when I travel, but to understand the reputation that we have for quality hardwood supply, a dedicated workforce, and educational programs surrounding this industry, was uplifting. This reputation is thanks to wonderful employers in our timber and wood product industry, which in the Greenbrier Valley include:

This list is likely not comprehensive. And it doesn’t include the loggers, the truckers, and the forestry firms that are vital to the success of this industry.  (But if you are looking for connections, we could help!)

The timber and forest product industry has been a part of the Greenbrier Valley heritage for a century or more, back to the logging boom of the 1920s.  As we have come forward, forest management best practices have emerged, companies are understanding and embracing sustainability, and they are creating additional value from our raw materials.  To be sure, this industry is experiencing challenges that many industries face – workforce, rapidly changing markets, and increased costs – but this industry will persevere and be part of our economy for centuries more.

Our forests are one of our greatest resources. Not only for the wood products industry, but for the tourism and recreation industry, for agriculture and forest farming. Forests are sustainable resources, when properly managed, that can provide for all of these wonderful opportunities.

As always, if the Greenbrier Valley EDC can help your business – large or small, in any industry, in any way – please let us know.