An announcement by the U.S. Census Bureau that privately owned housing starts are up 15 percent over last month and 35 percent over a year ago reinforces research by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute that shows the forest sector is "poised to rebound."
"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," said Paul Barnum, OFRI executive director. "The Great Recession hit wood products hard, and we want to be careful about predicting a recovery. But this is cause for cautious optimism."
The forest sector still accounts for one in 20 jobs in Oregon, even after the collapse and sluggish recovery of the housing market, a new OFRI research report shows.
OFRI earlier this month published a comprehensive study of the forest sector's employment and economic impact. "The 2012 Forest Report: An Economic Assessment of Oregon's Forest and Wood Products Manufacturing Sector" is a collaborative effort by 12 researchers representing five Pacific Northwest firms.
The study notes that the national recession "pulled the rug out" from Oregon's forest sector. Housing starts fell from a peak of 2.3 million in 2006 to 478,000 in 2009. About 14,000 forest sector jobs and $527 million of income have been lost since 2007, the report said.
Even through the difficult few years since the recession, the forest sector in Oregon accounts for about $12.7 billion in total industrial output, making it one of the state's largest traded sectors. It directly employs 76,000 Oregonians who earn $5.2 billion in total income.
The Census Bureau reported today that September starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 872,000. This is 15 percent more than the revised August estimate of 758,000 and 35 percent above the September 2011 rate. Housing experts project a sustainable nationwide replacement housing rate annually of 1.5 million starts.
"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 "2012 Forest Report" warns, however, that recovery of Oregon's forest sector could falter without a stable, dependable supply of timber from the state's federal forests.
"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."
A summary of the study can be found at TheForestReport.org, where it is also available for download.