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Developing and promoting Indiana’s hardwood industry

Chris Gonso, left, is the Hardwood Program Manager for ISDA. (photo courtesy: Wes Mills)

NEW HAVEN, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The state of Indiana says it is continuing to aggressively develop and market its hardwood industry, an aspect of Hoosier agriculture that contributes approximately $10.5 billion to the economy.

In February 2019, the state launched the Indiana Hardwood Strategy, a comprehensive assessment of the industry, to provide a roadmap to grow the sector.

Officials from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association on Tuesday toured a variety of northeast Indiana businesses that rely on Hoosier hardwoods.

“If you take (hardwood) as a sector by itself as compared to corn, or soybeans or pork, it’s much bigger than in any of those sectors individually,” said Bruce Kettler, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. “We always say Indiana’s about a $31 billion agriculture state, so you look at $10 to $11 billion. Being hardwoods, it’s the largest sector.”

Indiana has approximately 4.9 million acres of forest land, compared to 5.2 million acres of corn and 5.6 million in soybeans.

From logging and milling to wood production industries, hardwood supports 70,000 jobs in the state

According to state data, 10% of the jobs in the Hoosier hardwood industry are involved in logging, while secondary wood products industries, such as cabinet and furniture makers, account for 53% of the jobs.

“I think a lot of people don’t know just how large it is from an economic development perspective,” said Chris Gonso, ISDA hardwoods manager.

Gonso said the state strategy is to keep the raw wood that is grown and harvested in Indiana by attracting and growing those secondary industries. A similar strategy was developed for the state’s dairy industry.

“Some of the goals were to reduce economic leakages and try and process more of that raw product into higher value,” said Gonso. “Increase the economic returns that are generated, through additional manufacturing here in the state. And we wanted to see if we could do something similar with the hardwood industry.”

Gonso said some in-state manufacturers might go out of state looking for specific varieties or qualities of hardwood, not realizing it was already available in Indiana.

“The key is that we want to keep that that industry here. It creates the markets for our lumber, it creates the markets for our logs and keeps our landowners happy and utilizes the very high-quality hardwoods that we have growing in our state.”

Gonso said the total acreage of timberland in the state has steadily increased since the 1960s and forests are currently growing in volume more than 3.3 times the amount being removed annually.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, ISDA Director Bruce Kettler said the state’s hardwood industry is important to Indiana’s economy.