Maine’s forest products industry needs to react more quickly to changing markets and find investments for new products, a group studying the sector said in a report released Tuesday.

FOR/Maine, a group with representatives from industry, communities, government and others, said the forest products industry could maintain a leading role in the state’s economy if it is more nimble in adapting to rapid changes in markets, technology and social trends.

The group’s report said the goal is for the industry to support a more sustainable forest and stronger communities and have a greater impact on the economy. If its recommendations are followed, the industry could grow its economic impact from $8.5 billion a year to $12 billion annually, the report said.

The Forestry Industry Roadmap, funded by a $1 million grant from the Department of Commerce, said the industry needs more investments and a stronger focus on managing the state’s forests, which cover almost 90 percent of the state and are primarily privately owned. The report also calls for workforce training and support for communities dependent on the forest to help the industry grow.

“Maine’s forests are a major renewable resource. With the right steps … the state is in a position to grow a sustainable economy built on bio-based production,” said Jeffrey Hatcher, managing director of Indufor North America, which conducted a global market analysis for the organization.

The funding for the report was provided in early 2017, shortly after a wave of paper mill closings swept across the state. It aims to provide ideas for rebuilding the forest products industry.

The report doesn’t identify where the investments would come from, but said expanding the use of trees, including developing new chemical products, could “lead Maine to (a) second golden age of forestry.”

The organization’s next steps include developing implementation and marketing plans for the industry and setting up a “community working group,” which would focus on redeveloping idle mills and strengthening the communities where mills continue to operate.

“Maine’s forests continue to be a vital part of our state’s economy,” Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said in a joint statement. The FOR/Maine “recommendations will support job creation and economic growth in our rural communities.”

Maine has a strong forest products foundation. The state has more than 17 million acres of forest, the largest contiguous, privately owned working forest in the country, more than half of which is certified as managed sustainably. The industry can produce 16 millions tons of wood a year and is a short distance from the largest consumer market in the world. Maine also has deep-water ports that offer direct shipping to Europe and the rest of the world, the report said, and has the University of Maine, which is a leader in forestry education and provides research and development for the industry.

And, despite the economic turmoil in the paper industry in recent years, four mill owners invested nearly $400 million to convert paper machines to new products. Much of the industry in the state had been focused on producing coated paper, used primarily by the magazine industry, but demand has contracted sharply. Demand for new product lines geared toward shipping materials, specialty papers and tissue paper is growing.

In addition to traditional wood products, the report said, new markets are emerging for products from trees, including biofuels, pulp that can be used in textile production, and nanocellulose, which can also be used in textiles and medical products. The report said research into new products should be accelerated if the state is to take a leadership role in developing new uses for wood.

The report also said that new investments could be attracted if the state addresses regulatory issues and high energy prices.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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