Indiana’s Got Wood

Indiana’s Got Wood

Indiana’s $10 billion hardwoods industry doesn’t always get the attention it deserves as one examines economic trends in the state. It’s usually underrated, growing quietly and strong like an oak while flashier high-tech developments get more of the headlines. But there’s a wealth of opportunity lying just beneath the industry’s canopy, and the state recently launched a new initiative to bring those opportunities into the sunlight.

The new Indiana Hardwood Strategy was planted by state officials earlier this year. It will be used by the state to expand current and attract new wood processing facilities to Indiana and strengthen the hardwoods industry, which officials noted has a great deal of untapped potential. Despite millions of dollars in annual exports and a foreseeably sustainable future, there still exists considerable demand.

“Indiana is renowned for producing high quality hardwood timber, yet more than $230 million of sawmill products are coming from outside the state,” Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch said. “With demand there and our robust, sustainable forest resource base, we want to provide that supply chain link and help capture some of that economic activity in Indiana.”


Tree-mendous Value

The Indiana Hardwood Strategy was formulated in large part based on research published in the Indiana Hardwood Assessment that was compiled by Mishawaka-based DJ Case & Associates, the Purdue Center for Regional Development, Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, and Purdue Extension. The assessment was commissioned by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association, and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.

According to the strategy, the hardwoods industry contributes more than $10 billion to the state’s economy and supports over 70,000 high-wage jobs. There is a strong indirect impact on employment in this sector, as every 10 jobs directly related to hardwoods supports an additional 8 jobs in the state.

The value of Indiana’s hardwood exports totaled more than $250 million in 2017, with Canada and China serving as the state’s top two markets. Export of logs, regardless of type, has increased in the past decade, and value-added products, such as paperboard products and veneer, are seeing growth.

“For every dollar invested on a finished wood product, an additional 80 cents is generated by companies that support the production process,” said Bruce Kettler, Indiana State Department of Agriculture director.


Sustainable Supply

Another component identified by the strategy is the importance of sustainability and proper forest management. Indiana has approximately 4.9 million acres of forestland, of which, 84 percent is privately owned, 8 percent is owned by state and local government and 7.5 percent is owned by the federal government.

The total acreage of timberland in Indiana has steadily increased since the 1960s, and forests are growing in volume more than 3.3 times the amount being removed each year.


Areas of Focus

To grow the state’s hardwoods industry, the strategy focuses on three key areas:

  • Business development – Networking across sectors, connecting manufacturers to resources, promoting the state’s transportation assets, working with companies on innovation and expansion
  • Education – Informing consumers and businesses on the sustainability of real wood and working with landowners on proper management of forests
  • Marketing – Developing an ongoing campaign to promote the quality of Indiana hardwoods and informing legislators about what is needed to grow the industry

Some of the specific initiatives under these areas include strengthening Indiana’s existing hardwoods industry by expanding current processing, attracting new companies to the state, educating consumers and businesses on the sustainability of the hardwoods industry, and developing an ongoing campaign to promote the value of hardwoods.


Rapid 200-Job Response

Just a few weeks after the state’s announcements about the new hardwood industry strategy, a large new jobs announcement from a hardwood manufacturer was rolled out. Goshen-based Viewrail, a family-owned manufacturer of custom floating staircases, announced plans to increase production and create up to 200 new, high-wage jobs over the next few years.

The company will invest more than $12 million to double its footprint in Indiana, expanding and equipping its existing production facility at by an additional 40,000 square feet. The increased space, which will house new machinery and IT hardware, will allow Viewrail to expand its metal and wood shops to increase production of railing, stairs, and stair parts hand-crafted from steel, aluminum, and 17 species of domestic and imported woods. The company, which specializes in modern design, has experienced six consecutive years of 60 percent annual revenue growth and plans to achieve $100 million in sales by 2021 with this increased production.

“We started this company in my basement in Goshen, and we now have four separate facilities comprising 140,000 square feet, all located within a mile of each other,” said Len Morris, founder and owner of Viewrail. “Our belief is that our products are long lasting, but people are eternal. We’re fortunate to be able to find people of this quality right here in Goshen, Indiana.”

The IEDC supported the project with up to $2.6 million in conditional tax credits based on the planned job creation. At the time of Viewrail’s jobs and investment announcement, state officials noted that it fit in perfectly with aspects of the new hardwood strategy’s goals to expand current wood processing facilities and generate jobs.


Budding Opportunity

Although it’s still a little early to say whether or not the new strategy is having a marked impact on the hardwoods industry, it’s safe to presume having this new tool in the state’s economic marketing toolbox will help to bolster one of the state’s more underrated industries. Due to the value additions that are associated with the industry, and our available resources, the new strategy could very well prove fruitful.