Education and Research: A Case Analysis with the Center for Forest Products Marketing and Management
Center for Forest Products Marketing & Management – Department of Wood Science & Forest Products,College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech,1650 Ramble Road, Blacksburg, VA, 24061. USA.
Cooperative efforts in forestry and wood products are not necessarily new concepts. For many decades groups have tried pooling their efforts to improve forest management and identify new markets for wood-based products. One of the first successful recorded efforts in the United States goes back to Roger’s1 (1934) forest cooperative near Cooperstown, New York. Rogers developed the concept of a cooperative that would be a centralized management and utilization arrangement that would bring together the needs of the forest landowner with the interests of the wood user. Members of this cooperative had the requirements of practicing good forestry that included:
- Selective cutting in mature stands;
- The amount cut would be based upon annual growth;
- Immature timber shall not be cut except for improving the spacing or composition of the forest;
- Clear cuts shall be small and only made when new growth is assured; and
- Every tree to be cut, either for sale, fuel, or other home use shall be carefully selected and marked.
This effort became known as the Otsego Cooperative.2
Simon and Scoville3 studied forest cooperatives throughout the U.S. in 1979 to evaluate their purposes and success. They concluded that cooperatives provide the landowner with greater access to professional forest management and marketing services. The services were quite adaptable to small landowners and they offered services in the form of handling sales of traditional forest products, exploring new markets and alternative products and encouraging proper forest management. These authors found that services included improving timber stands, providing forest management plans, cruising and marketing timber, negotiating contracts, supervising harvests and furnishing market information. The cooperatives average stumpage price for timber was approximately 11 percent higher than prevailing local prices.
In 1979 a forest products marketing and management cooperative was formed in central Maine to market the forest products of small woodlot owners. The cooperative first marketed firewood produced by members in the areas around central Maine. They also had plans to market pulpwood to paper companies and develop markets for logs and lumber produced by the woodland owners. The overall objective of the cooperative was to improve the return to members from the products sold from their woodlands.4
Most recently Kozak and Hartidge5 (2000) describe three types of cooperative ventures. The shared use of manufacturing facilities can provide businesses and individual proprietors with access to common machinery and services which otherwise may be too expensive for them to use or unavailable in the region. A “business incubator” is often used when companies share common real estate or buildings. Members may receive a discount on utilities or common administrative services such as accounting. These authors describe a true cooperative as a group who collectively purchase assets that the individuals could not afford by themselves. Members may share work areas, office space, and administrative tasks. Common goals or business interests normally link these businesses or individuals. These researchers conclude that, “The corollary is that without guidance, leadership and regional interest, any type of shared facility or cooperative is destined to fail.”
In the United States the forest products industry has been traditionally production oriented. With what appeared to be an unlimited low-cost resource, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries manufacturing commodity wood products at the lowest cost was the primary strategy utilized. Very little effort was made to understand the needs of consumers of wood products since everything that was made could be readily sold. However, during the latter part of the last century, the United States saw increasing concern for the environment and multiple uses for forests became the standard for publicly owned lands. Since the majority of our softwood resource was on public lands, the value of standing timber escalated during the 1970s. This resulted in a slow shift from a production orientation toward a marketing orientation in the forest products industry.
This trend was identified by a few early leaders in the academic community and was lead by Dr. Stuart Rich from the University of Oregon. Dr. Rich’s Book, The Marketing of Forest Products6, was one of the first texts dedicated to the subject. Dr. Jim Boyer from the University of Minnesota was also one of the early leaders on this subject developing a program that combined wood products and business applications at the University of Minnesota during the early 1980s. Dr. Steven Sinclair saw an opportunity in the late 1980s to develop a curriculum at Virginia Tech that would focus specifically on forest products marketing. Dr. Sinclair then published a second text on the subject, Forest Products Marketing7 in 1992.
In the development of his curriculum and textbook at Virginia Tech, Dr. Sinclair took a marketing approach to his work and initially contacted a number of companies in the industry that would provide input to his program. He queried owners and managers of forest products companies on classes students should take for an emphasis in marketing and what skills were needed by students for employment in forest products marketing. During these early conversations, Dr. Sinclair recognized a strong need not only for students, but also for research and continuing education in forest products marketing. This core group of companies became an advisory team for Dr. Sinclair and was the foundation for the Center for Forest Products Marketing, a cooperative effort among the industry, trade associations, government agencies and the Department of Wood Science and Forest Products at Virginia Tech to meet the needs of the industry in the science of forest products marketing.
The Center for Forest Products Marketing and Management (the Center) was established in 1991 to assist forest products companies in the management of their operations and the marketing of their products. The Center has grown from a few early members to over 70 companies that participate in assisting the development of young individuals to be prepared for employment within the industry. Center members include major international corporations such as Georgia-Pacific and Willamette Industries to locally owned pine sawmills like Morgan Lumber Company in Red Oak, Virginia. Major trade associations that belong to the Center include the Hardwood Manufacturers Association, the Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Association, the Wood Component Manufacturers Association and the Virginia Forest Products Association. Two Experiment Stations of the USDA Forest Service are active supporters of the Center. From hardwood lumber to softwood plywood, Center members represent all major wood products.
For their donations, Center members can hire quality undergraduate and graduate students trained specifically in forest products marketing, regular market intelligence studies, input on the research conducted, and continuing education for the industry. Four faculty members are involved in the teaching and research activities of the Center. Three of the faculties are trained in forest products marketing, while one is an industrial engineer focusing in the areas of production management for the industry. The staff of the Center includes a market analyst, a marketing and communications manager, a senior secretary and a director, who is one of the marketing faculties.
The educational program is focused both at the undergraduate and graduate level with a strong emphasis on wood science, supplemented with extensive courses in the College of Business at Virginia Tech. Courses in the Department of Wood Science focus on the fundamentals of wood science with emphasis in the areas of forest products business, marketing and management. Classes in the business college include marketing, personal selling, production management, organizational behavior and market research. Undergraduates start at positions with Center members as sales representatives, production managers, marketing research specialists or trade association representatives. At the graduate level, students normally focus on Center members research needs as directed by the research committee. Upon completion of their work, graduate students often find work as middle managers or researchers with government agencies or associations. Center members provide intern opportunities for undergraduate students while enrolled and are often the first to offer full-time employment upon graduation.
The continuing education program for the industry has focused upon marketing and sales classes as they apply to the forest products industry. Courses are held throughout the US in cooperation with other universities or at individual company locations. The courses developed and taught include Forests Products Marketing, Selling Forest Products, E-commerce for the Wood Products Industry and Advanced Sales Training for the Forest Products Industry. New courses are developed and taught upon the recommendation of Center members.
The research of this cooperative effort is directed by a steering committee that provides direction for the Center’s market analyst. Past research has investigated wood material use in the furniture, cabinet, flooring and pallet markets in the US. Other studies have investigated the recycling of pallet lumber and treated lumber, third party certification issues, wood in industrial applications, non-timber forest products, international markets in Germany, Great Britain and China, and adoption of technology by the forest products industry. Center members receive complete reports from the research efforts upon completion of the project. A current major research thrust for the Center is finding new markets for the utilization of low-grade hardwood lumber.
Publications from the Center include a quarterly Research Update that describes a current research project, a quarterly Center Focus that informs members of other issues the Center is working on, a quarterly Market Update that describes current market issues facing the wood products industry and full-research reports upon completion of the specific research project. The Center coordinates company visits to the College for recruiting efforts and internship opportunities. It has one annual meeting for all Center members and one other meeting for the research steering committee to establish priorities for the coming year.
To assess the educational programs in the Center and the program offered in the Department of Wood Science and Forest Products at Virginia Tech, a mail survey was conducted of 279 alumni during May 2000. Undergraduate and graduate students were asked to evaluate instructional areas on the importance to their careers and how well they believed the Department prepared them in these areas. Center member employers were also contacted to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our students. To determine the educational needs of the subject area, a composite score was calculated by subtracting the preparation rating from the importance rating and weighting this difference by the importance rating:
(Importance to Career Success rating - Preparation rating) * Importance to Career Success
This study provided us with those subject areas which respondents believe are most important in their careers and what areas the Department should emphasize during student development. Besides this quantitative information, participants were asked for career and background data. An overall rating of the Department on preparing them for their careers and assistance in finding employment was also requested.
A total of 91 responses were received, resulting in an overall response rate of 33%. Forty responses came from undergraduate alumni and fifty-one came from graduate alumni. Overall, undergraduate students rated the Department a 3.93 out of 5 on preparation for their careers. In the category of assistance in finding employment undergraduate students rated the Department a 4.21 out of 5. Undergraduates were also satisfied with their potential for career advancement, rating it a 3.93 out of 5. The starting income for undergraduates averaged $26,500. Most undergraduate alumni started in positions as management trainees or entry-level sales.
Undergraduate alumni rated problem solving skills, personnel management skills, knowledge of business practices, writing skills, and computer skills as the most important to their career success. These alumni felt that they were prepared best in the areas of marketing skills, wood properties, wood drying, writing skills, and wood processing. When the educational need score was calculated the most important areas were business practices, management skills, management science, problem solving skills, and public speaking skills. This group felt that the least important subject areas for their careers were wood chemistry, accounting, and economics. Undergraduate alumni felt they received the least preparation in the areas of accounting, management science, and business practices.
Overall, graduate students rated the Department a 4.10 out of 5 on preparation for their careers. In the category of assistance in finding employment graduate students rated the Department a 3.19 out of 5. Graduate students were satisfied with the potential for career advancement, rating it a 3.94 out of 5. The starting income for graduate students averaged $32,600. Most graduate alumni started in positions working in academics, research, or upper management in private industry.
Graduate alumni rated problem solving skills, writing skills, public speaking skills, computer skills, and personal management skills as the most important in their career success. This group felt that they were best prepared in the areas of public speaking, wood properties, statistics, problem solving, and writing skills. The graduate alumni’s educational needs were in the areas of personnel management, business practices, computer skills, problem solving skills, and writing skills. This group felt that least important to their careers were accounting, wood chemistry, wood engineering and wood drying. They believe they received the least preparation in the areas of accounting, business practices, and economics, which was similar to the undergraduate students.
In general Center employers responding to the survey gave favorable impressions of the education given our graduates. All would hire our graduates or would recommend our program to prospective students. The employers ranked the skills they deemed important for our graduates’ career success. The most important skill was problem solving. Computer skills, marketing skills and knowledge of marketing were equally ranked as second by employers, while math skills and knowledge of business practices followed closely behind in importance. When asked how our graduates were prepared, employers ranked our graduates as best prepared in computer skills, knowledge of wood properties, knowledge of wood chemistry, math skills, writing skills, problem solving skills and knowledge of wood engineering. According to these employers, areas in which students can improve included, more education in quality control, emphasize industrial experience, and more understanding of the wood fiber based industry. Table 1 summarizes their ratings of the students.
Table 1: Center Employer’s Ratings of Students on Subject Matter
From the results of this study, we have adjusted our curriculum to meet the needs of employers. We have regular contact with employers of our undergraduate students through the Center members and in conversation all are very productive employees. The internships are evaluated upon the student’s completion with the results of the evaluation shared with all parties.
The Center for Forest Products Marketing and Management is a cooperative effort among the forest products industry, government agencies, trade associations and the Department of Wood Science and Forest Products at Virginia Tech. It was established 10 years ago to provide marketing education and intelligence for its membership. It has grown from a small number of firms to over eighty partners and seven staff members that cooperate in educating young adults in the marketing of forest products. This cooperative effort is unique since it is based upon marketing and management education and is not product or production oriented. Members have recently evaluated the program and we are currently making adjustments based upon their suggestions. This cooperative effort had demonstrated how industry, private and government agencies collaborate to benefit all the members.
1 Rogers, R.H. 1934. Centralized Management and Marketing Applied to the Woodlands in the
Cooperstown Forest Unit. Unpublished Thesis, N.Y. State College of Forestry, Syracuse.
2 USDA Information Bulletin 17. 1950. Otsego Forest Products Cooperative Association of Cooperstown,
3 Simon, D.M. and O. J. Scoville. 1982. Forest Cooperatives: Organization and Performance. ACS
Research Report 25.
4 Farmer Cooperatives. 1981. Cooperatives Part of Maine’s Development of Agriculture, Forests and Fish
Resources, pp 13-14.
5 Kozak, R. and C. Hartidge. 2000. British Columbia. The Forest Chronicle 76 (1) pp 151-158.
6 The Marketing of Forest Products: Text and Cases. 1970. McGraw Hill, New York. 700 pp.
7 Forest Products Marketing. 1992. McGraw Hill, New York. 401 pp.