South Carolina’s forests contribute over $21 billion annually to the state’s economy and provide more than 84,000 jobs, according to a study recently published by Clemson University.
The figures were announced by the S.C. Forestry Commission earlier this week during a “Forest Day” press conference on the State House grounds celebrating the commission’s 90th anniversary. The study, which was commissioned by a group of forestry organizations, was conducted by the university’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation.
It’s a culmination of a nearly decade-long initiative, according to Gene Kodama, director of the Forestry Commission.
In 2009, the Forestry Commission, Forestry Association of South Carolina, and other partners launched the “20-by-15” project to increase the forestry industry’s economic impact from $17.4 billion in 2008 to $20 billion by 2015. “It was designed to help the forestry industry recover as quickly as possible from a recession that was just getting started,” said Kodama.
The study shows 2.3 million more acres in forestland today than the first inventory in 1936. South Carolina now boasts 12.9 million acres of forests, with about 88 percent of that acreage being owned by about 300,000 private landowners.
South Carolina’s forests, which represent a $262 million investment, are the state’s most harvested crop, and forestry products are the top export commodity from the Port of Charleston, according to the study.
“With forestry having a $21 billion economic impact on South Carolina, it is clear that this growing industry is a major component of the state’s diverse economy,” said S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt. “South Carolina is a state that is blessed with a beautiful geography and an abundance of natural resources, and as a result, we’ve been able to cultivate a very successful forestry industry.”
The state’s forestry industry covers a wide range of industries that include logging, timber, paper production and conversion, and a diversity of wood and finished or secondary product businesses, such as manufacturers of furniture or trim.
“The size and importance of forestry to our economy is not well known by the public because a lot of the economic activity occurs at the wholesale level before consumers ever see the finished products. But those forest products are all around us, and we depend on them for many things from paper, packaging and lumber to diapers, medicine, dyes and more,” Kodama said.
The pulp and paper sector, which is the industry’s largest, represents over half of forestry sector employment and labor income. It provides just over 41,000 jobs and contributes about $14 billion in labor income. The main contribution comes from seven large pulp and paper mills, including West Rock in Florence, and Sonoco in Hartsville.
The timber sector, which employs 5,244 people and provides over 482 million in labor income, is the industry’s smallest sector, according to the study. Logging contributes just over $640 million and provides 6,622 jobs. Solid wood manufacturing, which includes early 100 primary mills and over 700 hundred secondary mills across the state, employs 22,000 jobs and contributes $4.4 billion.
For more information, visit state.sc.us.