CLEMSON — Forestry industry leaders from across South Carolina converged on Clemson University Tuesday for an all-day conference billed as an opportunity to forge collaborations between business and higher education.

Forest executives

Forestry executives from across South Carolina attend the Forestry Industry Advisory Conference hosted by Clemson University.

The Forestry Industry Advisory Conference was hosted by Clemson’s forestry and environmental conservation department and attended by more than 70 industry executives and representatives from state and federal agencies. The attendees worked with Clemson administrators, faculty, Extension foresters and students to find ways they can partner to keep the state’s $20 billion forestry industry humming.

The conference’s keynote speaker was John D. Williams, chief executive officer of Domtar Corporation, the largest integrated producer of uncoated freesheet paper in North America.

Williams spoke about the need for creativity and innovation in an industry that will be renewing much of its workforce over the coming years.

“Clemson’s number one deliverable is fabulous graduates,” Williams said. “This industry, regardless of the grade we’re making now, is going to face its challenges and we need talented teams of people who can help the industry overcome these challenges.”

Williams also called for the forestry industry to embrace sustainability.

“When forests are well-managed they are self-sustaining ecosystems. Clemson is clearly focused on this. Nobody needs sustainable forests more than the pulp and paper industry. If they’re not there, we’re done. Sustainability can also serve as a marketing story that sets the Southeast apart from other markets,” Williams said.

Forestry industry representatives from Schneider Tree Care, American Forest Management, Milliken, International Paper and others called on Clemson’s forestry department to fill curriculum gaps, incentivize curriculum innovation, provide research support in areas that apply more directly to industry needs and help create manufacturing markets for South Carolina’s abundant timber.

One such initiative is Clemson’s Wood Utilization + Design Institute, which is working to grow the state’s forestry industry by finding new manufacturing markets for South Carolina timber.

Attendees highlighted the need to produce forestry graduates with strong business, communications and collaboration skills.

Greg Yarrow, professor and chair of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, hopes to form an advisory committee made up of forestry industry leaders and government partners to help guide the department’s future strategic goals.

“Clemson’s goal is to educate the next generation of forestry professionals, provide solutions through applied research, and provide outreach and Extension services to forest landowners and the general public,” Yarrow said.

Forest tour

Conference attendees tour the Clemson Experimental Forest.

The meeting also featured presentations on student support and career placement initiatives, current research projects and Clemson Cooperative Extension’s role in assisting forest landowners throughout the state.

Attendees also toured the Clemson Experimental Forest. The 17,500-acre forest, which attained Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification in 2015,  is home to natural resources and wildlife management research, and serves as a hands-on learning laboratory for Clemson students. It has been under Clemson’s management since 1939 and is believed to be the largest research and teaching forest contiguous with the main campus of a public university in the U.S.