The organizations identified the forestry sector as a high priority in the Mobilize Northern Maine asset-based planning initiative. APP President Bob Dorsey formed a forestry tiger team that includes Don Tardie, who recently retired as general manager of Maine Woods Company in Portage; Dana Saucier, forestry consultant; Steve St. Pierre, KeyBank; Phil Bosse, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' staff; Bob Clark and Mike Eisensmith, NMDC; and Tim Hobbs, Maine Potato Board. Dorsey said, according to a press release from APP, that the purpose of the group is "to increase the value-added processing of Aroostook timber industry which will grow more jobs and help grow The County economy."
The tiger team met twice this summer. At the most recent meeting on Aug. 13, Joel Swanton of the Northeastern Region Manager Forest Resources Association Inc. gave his perspective on opportunities and challenges facing the industry in Aroostook County and Maine.
"The County has three million acres of forest, and Maine is 89 percent forested," said Dorsey, according to the same press release. "The forest industry is between $8 billion to $12 billion a year to the Maine economy and is roughly 20 percent of the state's gross domestic product. It is a resource and industry that is worth our attention because it means so much to the region."
The group has developed initial goals of increasing the number of mills in Aroostook, reduce the cost of energy to make mills more competitive, address regulatory restrictions that - according to the group - make Maine companies less competitive, explore new value-added products and promote best alternatives, enhance the image and work of the forest industry to maintain a viable workforce, and assist and promote continuing business education for the forest industry business.
The current focus of the group is to gain more information by including industry officials. Dorsey added a push is also on for the state to maintain up-to-date economic and resource data. In the immediate future, the group will benchmark best practices in regions with a comparable forest sector and promote business education programs such as the one conducted at the University of Maine Fort Kent in May for loggers, truckers and bookkeepers.
"Unless we do something to encourage the growth of (the) forest sector, I honestly believe we will not be in a position to respond to an increase in demand," said Saucier of Eagle Lake, according to the press release.
The forestry tiger team is tentatively set to meet again on Sept. 25.