Numbers 'cause for cautious optimism,' expert says
By MITCH LIES
An Oct. 17 report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows housing starts are up 35 percent from a year ago, reinforcing a recently released Oregon industry report that showed the forest sector is "poised to rebound."
The Census Bureau reported that September starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 872,000, 15 percent more than the revised August estimate of 758,000 and 35 percent above the number in September 2011.
"The forest sector in Oregon potentially can add thousands of new jobs if the market continues to move in the direction we see in today's numbers," Paul Barnum, executive director of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, said Oct. 17.
"The Great Recession hit wood products hard, and we want to be careful about predicting a recovery," Barnum said. "But this is cause for cautious optimism."
The census report comes on the heels of the Oregon forest-industry report released Oct. 11 that shows the sector has potential to recover from a recession that "pulled the rug out" from under the industry.
Housing starts fell from a peak of 2.3 million in 2006 to 478,000 in 2009, according to OFRI-commissioned report, costing the forest-products sector roughly 14,000 jobs and $527 million in income since 2007.
The 194-page report states the forest sector has lost approximately 50 wood manufacturing facilities since 2003. "And those remaining are operating well below capacity," it states.
Despite this, the report states, the Oregon forest sector is "poised to rebound."
"Oregon's deep soils and temperate climate give it a natural advantage for tree growing," Barnum said. "Combined with a superior workforce, competitive manufacturing and a positive business climate, we're well positioned to participate in a recovery."
The report warns, however, the industry's recovery could falter without a stable, dependable supply of timber from the state's federal forests.
About 60 percent of the forest land in Oregon is federally owned. Conversely, about 75 percent of Oregon's 3.65 billion board-foot harvest volume in 2011 came from private land.
"It is time to assess and reconsider the policies that govern management of Oregon's federal forests," the report states. "A successful effort could lead to healthier federal forests and more robust and resilient rural economies."