Diverse trees, diverse products support Michigan's forestry industry

The basketball court displayed on your television screen, the chest of drawers in the corner of your room, the glossy magazine on your lap. They could have something in common—they may all have originated from wood coming out of Michigan's forests.

Michigan's forests are incredibly diverse, as are the forestry products made in the state. And that diversity is reflected in the urban and rural linkages that comprise Michigan’s forestry industry.

“Forestry is a big player in Michigan’s economy, impacting both rural and urban economies,” says Michigan's state forester Bill O’Neill, who also serves as Natural Resources Deputy for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

That economy is sizable and diverse.

A just-released report authored by Michigan State University professor of forest economics Larry Leefers reveals that in 2013, the state’s forest products industry directly contributed $10.2 billion in output, generated 34,951 jobs and accounted for $2.1 billion in labor income. Indirectly (accounting for industries that support Michigan forestry products) these numbers increased to $17.9 billion in output, 87,381 jobs and $4.5 billion in labor income.

Grossman Forestry in Newberry, a private consulting firm that assists landowners with forest management, states that its yearly average of managed and harvested species includes about 40 percent northern hardwoods, 20 percent pine, 20 percent aspen and 20 percent swamp species. Products from just a 10-acre plot in these woods often go to as many as eight or nine markets.

“A lot of different products can come out of one acre,” says forester Gerald Grossman. The variety of trees—northern hardwoods such as maple, birch, beech, ash and hemlock, as well as pine and cedar—produce items as varied as gym floors, furniture, particle board and paper.

From trees to basketball courts

March Madness collegiate basketball tournaments are not far off, and all Division I regional and Final Four games will take place on maple floors built by Connor Sport Court, which operates a mill in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and crafts basketball courts for both the NCAA and NBA. This company also constructed the famed parquet court used by the Boston Celtics and the home court of the Golden State Warriors, current NBA defending champions.

“We use Northern hard maple—we look for lumber with light color,” says Jason Gasperich, Connor Sport Court’s director of sustainability. “The majority come from Michigan.”

The maple courts end up in sparkling urban sports arenas, but are produced in Amasa, a tiny Upper Peninsula town with a total population of about 150. Connor Sport Court’s mill employs 110 people (it’s the largest employer in Iron County).

Maple processed in Amasa is destined for a wide variety of athletic pursuits, including volleyball, racquet sports and more. But basketball is the most high-profile sport showcasing the light-colored lumber.

“When it comes to wood and basketball, it’s a tradition—it’s just what you see,” Gasperich says. “The NBA requires Northern hard maple for use on all of its courts.”

Other key forestry industry players in the state include Pioneer Cabinetry, with a factory in Davison; Verso, a manufacturer of media-quality paper with factories in Escanaba and Quinnesec; Arauco, which is in the works to construct a large particleboard mill in Grayling; Kindel Furniture, a luxury brand based in Grand Rapids; and Timber Products Company, which has a hardwood products manufacturing facility in Munising.

How to grow a forestry industry

“Michigan is the premier state for veneer hardwood,” says Robert Edwards, resource manager of Timber Products Company’s Michigan Hardwood Veneer and Lumber Division. But despite an abundance of harvestable trees in the state, Edwards says the biggest challenge his company and others like it face is the ability to source raw material.

“Our biggest obstacle is the National Forest Service,” he says. “Mills and logging companies put people to work. We’re an economic driver.”

Leefers, who serves on the Michigan Timber Advisory Council, says the state is working with National Forest Service to facilitate the sale of some of the timber in its national forests.

And the state is also setting goals to grow the timber industry. In late October of last year, four key goals were discussed at the Governor’s Forest Products Summit. They included: within five years, increase the state forestry industry’s economic impact to $20 billion; grow forest industry employment opportunities by 10 percent; expand the export value of value-added forest products by 50 percent; and foster industry development in the region.

"The key is to increase exports,” says Leefers. “We’re looking for overseas markets for our goods."

Further developing the state's supply chain for value-added timber products will be essential for expanding the market.

"The last thing we want to do is export logs," says O'Neill. "All steps of the value-added chain are in Michigan. We fully use the trees and put people to work."

Anthony Weatherspoon is a retired DNR forest products specialist. He believes ever-more efficient use of harvested trees will be a critical strategy for growing the industry.

“We need all the parts of the tree for many uses—chemical, medical, hardwood, veneer, pulp woods, and others,” says Weatherspoon. “The key is not to waste—we want to be efficient in our use.”

This story is a part of a statewide Forest Management Community Impact Series. Support for this series is provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
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