Mississippi State's Forest and Wildlife Research Center is beginning an assessment of both company and individual employee needs in the state's forest products industry.
Commissioned recently by the Mississippi Development Authority, the five-month project will employ a cluster analysis to identify ways to enhance the competitive advantages of various industry sectors.
"A cluster is a geographic concentration of sometimes-competing, sometimes-collaborating firms and the related support infrastructure," said project investigator John Gunter. "Previous cluster studies have generated increased awareness of the industries involved and can promote public/private linkages, resulting in economic growth."
Gunter, a forest economist, said logging, lumber and wood products, paper and allied products, and wood furniture and related products are the sectors being studied.
"Forest products are an important component of Mississippi's economy, supporting directly and indirectly some 152,000 employees and total annual industry output of $14.8 billion," he explained. "With more than 18.6 million acres of timberland, ensuring Mississippi's lead in the world's forest products market is tremendously important for the state's economy."
Mississippi's forest products industry includes several hundred manufacturing sites operated by companies ranging from multi-billion dollar fully-integrated global multi-site businesses to small family-owned firms.
"Companies at both ends of this spectrum often find it necessary to hire employees with more education and to implement training programs for existing employees," Gunter said. "In addition to defining cluster linkages, the study will identify employers' needs, workforce availability, existing educational and training programs, and skills gaps."
The project also will assess the readiness of the currently available workforce and of the projected workforce through the year 2006 based on existing educational programs.
When completed later this year, the study will include specific recommendations "for building a stronger, more competitive forest products industry in Mississippi," Gunter said.