Why $1.5 Million for Maine's Forest Products Industry Is Just a Start

By Fishell, Darren | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), July 29, 2016 | Go to article overview

Why $1.5 Million for Maine's Forest Products Industry Is Just a Start


Fishell, Darren, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


PORTLAND, Maine -- Maine's forest products industry has had a tough couple of decades.

That's why political officials gave such plaudits Friday to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The agency allocated $1.5 million to help Maine find a way forward for the industry, which has been hit from multiple sides.

Numerous mill closures have highlighted headwinds for the industry, leaving mill workers to upend their lives either to stay in the industry or to find a way out.

That leaves the money announced Friday with some big shoes to fill, particularly as Maine's paper industry supplies about $226 million less in annual wages than it did fewer than 20 years ago.

Paper's economic weight has dwindled since 2000. Paper manufacturing payrolls made up about 4.5 percent of wages in the state in 2000, at about $636 million that year.

Last year, paper manufacturing accounted for less than 2 percent of payrolls, which have been growing in other industries, including forestry and logging, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Labor.

While foresters and loggers are earning more, there are fewer of them. From the federal data, which only covers companies that have employees, that could reflect smaller companies shedding their workers in order to continue operating under a sole proprietor.

Maine jobs in forestry and logging were 15 percent lower last year than in 2000, down 428 payroll positions. The paper industry shed almost 7,000 jobs during the same time, a 56 percent decrease.

Members of Maine's congressional delegation called the situation an "economic crisis of unprecedented magnitude" in a letter to federal officials this spring, pleading successfully for them to also assign an economic development assessment team to study the state's forest products industry.

The team's visit in August will give the first inklings of where they might seek to focus the state's forest products industry, as communities such as East Millinocket and Lincoln remain particularly hard-hit.

Penobscot County has been hit harder than other areas with paper making jobs.

Average paper industry employment dropped 85 percent in Penobscot County last year. …

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