Saturday afternoon February 24th, 2019 GLTPA received a call from board member, Tim Lee, informing us that a major truck route bridge had a weight limit of 40 tons placed on it the previous afternoon. Following the call, an email was immediately sent to WI DOT officials. Within minutes a response came back from DOT after which time a call took place starting the discussion to resolve this issue.
Knowing spring thaw would soon be upon us, timing was critical to have access to this major truck route. After many options had been discussed, it was decided to repair the bridge by reinforcing the pilings. A similar repair had been previously done to a bridge having the same design. It is now March 19th, repairs are complete, the weight limit has been removed and trucking can resume on this route avoiding costly detours at this critical time of year.
The details of this event are shared for one reason and that’s to say this, because of being involved with, and having great communications with WI DOT, issues like this are being addressed at warp speed. It is not always possible to get quick resolution to our liking, but when it is, DOT response is exceptional. During the last few years WI DOT has worked hard and continues to engage the forest industry in many discussions and with inclusion of forestry on transportation committees. All discussions are good and some, such as truck weight, are not always fun. Regardless, GLTPA board members welcome this outreach and take every opportunity available to teach folks in the department about the forest industry and its operational challenges.
When people and organizations understand each other’s situations and communicate on a regular basis, good things such as the expedient fixing of the Ounce River Bridge happen. For most of us employed by agencies or organizations including myself, since I’m no longer a full-time logger, our paychecks come on a regular basis. Loggers and log truckers are paid by production which adds a level of urgency to fix things quickly. When issues like the Ounce River Bridge evolve, it’s important those responsible for public safety and infrastructure are aware of the impact one seemingly, minor situation can have on one of the state’s largest industries. The only way for them to know the impact is for the forest industry to teach them. They must be receptive, which they have been and continue to be, and industry must also be receptive to learn and understand their responsibilities as well.
The point here is that a good number of government agency folks, in this situation WI DOT employees, have done a very good thing serving the forest industry with a “can do” attitude. Rather than taking the easy way by simply letting the clock run out and waiting to use spring thaw as a reason to do nothing, they took positive action and for that they are to be commended.
In early March of 2019, a special presentation was held in Stevens Point Wisconsin called “Insight into Wisconsin’s Pulp, Paper and Converting Industries.” The study presented by Paul Fowler, Executive Director for Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology and others, was developed from state and federal data, industry survey’s and several interviews with key industry representatives.
The presentation covered industry topics including pay scale, employment requirements, and industry changes which have led to growth in areas such as the paper converting industry. It was pointed out that some who’ve been in the industry for 20 plus years feel the paper industry will continue to decline however, the information presented is indicating the paper industry decline has leveled and any further loss will be slow.
Regarding employees, employers according to the report, are looking for two main qualities: one is dependability and the other is the critical thinking. Dependability is something all employers are looking for and it’s interesting that GLTPA received a call from an Oregon company doing a background check on a former GLTPA employee. As soon as it was stated the former employee was very punctual and dependable, the person on the phone said that was all she needed and immediately hung up without asking another question. That sends a very strong message.
As for the critical thinking it’s peculiar that on one hand, society tries to standardize processes making them so easy no thought is required. In my opinion the current workforce is responsible for the results we now have with a nearly non-existent workforce. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it stated several times that “we don’t want our children to work as hard as we did” when growing up. What’s wrong with working hard? Working hard at a young age typically evokes critical thinking. In addition, many studies have shown people who work hard are healthier and do well as productive citizens adding value to the world around them. Is that not a good thing and if so, why haven’t those values been handed to the next generation? Not doing so makes a labor shortage seem imminent doesn’t it? In the big picture the labor issue will worsen even more. A recent study indicated traditional families are having 1.8 children which means they are not replacing themselves. If the report is accurate and you plan to grow your business, better do it now before there are no bodies available.
As for wages this study highlighted the imbalance between woods workers and other parts of the industry. If my notes are accurate the study showed papermills paying their summer help $15.50 to $18.00 per hour. If those temporary workers stayed for permanent positions, their wages after 6 months advanced to between $20.00 and $22.00 per hour plus benefits. Experienced operators, according to the study, are paid between $60K and $70K per year plus benefits. The study also showed wages increasing on an annual basis between 2% and 3% to keep pace with inflation. In some cases, wages were increased as much as 7% to 13% in order to retain employees.
Think the logging community has a hurdle to overcome? Think about it, no one individual in the entire supply chain has a larger investment than a logger or trucker. No one in the supply chain has a more significant impact on the environment than the logger doing the on-ground management, yet, the value of their work gets such little recognition there’s currently no possible way they can compete with other employment opportunities. I realize this is a Wisconsin study however the exact same finding was recently released in a study done by the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine. Coincidence? I think not. Fixable? Show me the money! The Maine study can be found on the GLTPA website. The link can be found at the end of the online Greetings article.
On a final note board member Matt Jensen brought to our attention a recent article published in “The AG Docket” titled “How does the New Tax Law Act Impact Equipment Trades?” (See page 64 of this TPA.) Early investigation into this tax law change shows this law to change to have an extremely negative impact for forestry and agriculture. We strongly encourage you to take council with your accountant for future planning. GLTPA and MI Association of Timbermen Board member Brian Nelson will be bringing this to the attention of the Wisconsin and Michigan congressional delegations during the American Logger Council Annual Fly-In April 3-6.
Follow these links for more information on the Maine Study:
For the executive summary of the study go online here.
Until next month,