Forest products are part of the DNA of Mississippi.
That is how Gov. Phil Bryant welcomed participants Monday [June 26] to the 71st International Convention of the Forest Products Society, hosted by Mississippi State University's College of Forest Resources and Forest and Wildlife Research Center.
Bryant, whose grandfather once harvested timber by mule in south Mississippi, made the connection that all Mississippians have been involved in or have a family member involved in the forest products industry.
"Our forest products industry is as strong as ever because now we bring our forest products to the world," Bryant said.
Touting Mississippi's top standing as a state driven by forestry and forest products, Bryant spoke about the industry's magnitude, including the availability of the resource with 19.8 million acres of forestland throughout the state. He also emphasized Mississippi's national standing: first in tree farms and first in bio-made products.
"We generate $12.79 billion economic impact from our forest products industries in the state of Mississippi," Bryant said. "And as important as all of that may seem, what I like is the 70,000 jobs that are created in the forest products industry. In a state of 2.9 billion people, 70,000 jobs is remarkable."
Bryant went on to add the global impact of Mississippi's forest products industry, with wood and wood pulp products accounting for $866 million in exports from the state.
Bryant was one of three speakers to open the International Convention of the Forest Products Society. Other opening speakers included Roy O. Martin, CEO of a family-owned company located in Louisiana and Texas, and Trevor Raymond Stuthridge, executive vice president of Canada's FP Innovations.
The convention draws members from 42 countries, creating a global network of scientists, academics, architects and decision makers. The annual gathering is designed for discussion of the latest forest products research and innovations in the field. It also provides students with an opportunity to network.
This week's convention includes 160 attendees and is the first time for it to be hosted in the Magnolia State. MSU Department of Sustainable Bioproducts Head Rubin Shmulsky serves as the program chair.
"It is a great opportunity to bring the convention to Starkville, to showcase the work being done at Mississippi State University," Shmulsky said. "The Department of Sustainable Bioproducts is one of a few that offer degrees in forest products, and we want to showcase our facilities, research and hospitality to industry and potential graduate students."
The Department of Sustainable Bioproducts is in the university's College of Forest Resources and Forest and Wildlife Research Center. The Forest and Wildlife Research Center, established in 1994 by the Mississippi Legislature, is the only entity in the state charged with research to conserve, develop and utilize forests and forest products, as well as wildlife and fisheries resources.
The forest products industry in Mississippi includes logging, solid wood products, pulp and paper, and wood furniture. Bryant spoke to the strength of the industry in the state, including the emergence of new companies.
For example, Biewer Lumber Company broke ground in 2016 for the company's new $85 million sawmill in Newton. Louisville's Winston Plywood and Veneer, devastated by an EF4 tornado in 2014, rebuilt as one of the largest plywood companies in North America. Additionally, Drax Biomass manufacturing facility in Liberty is supplying wood pellets, a product that replaces coal in heating, for England and the European Union.
While business is growing, Bryant mentioned the need to continue to develop a skilled workforce.
The three-day agenda for the International Convention of the Forest Products Society includes numerous MSU alumni, as well as faculty and staff. The convention's program, themed "The Future of the Global Forest Products Industry," includes presentations on the newest highly-advanced production facilities and the most innovative research in areas such as nanomaterials, medium-density fiberboard and panelboard, bioenergy, non-wood composites, green building and mass timber.
MSU alumni speakers include World Nieh, USDA Forest Service national program leader for forest products and utilization, and Steve Bullard, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, Stephen F. Austin State University.