Eureka Times-Standard

Jacqueline Debets/Business Sense

Posted:   07/28/2013 02:37:37 AM PDT

Time to change the story we’re telling about Humboldt County’s future

Some people have asked me “Is this redwood marketing campaign just a last-ditch effort to save the timber industry?” Absolutely not “last ditch.” Definitely an effort that will sustain and grow the forest products industry and Humboldt’s economy.

The industry itself continues to make 50- and 100-year investments that will sustain the industry for the long haul. They face numerous and constantly changing challenges in the current national and global economy.

One challenge that we make here in Humboldt County is our attitude, our story about the economy. If we keep saying “The timber industry is dead,” we’re looking at the future through the rear-view mirror and anticipating disaster.

Certainly, it’s been a long, painful slide. In 1965 (the year I was born), just one segment of the industry — lumber manufacturing — employed about 11,500 people in Humboldt County. Today, about 4,000 people work in the larger Forest Products industry in Humboldt and Mendocino counties, about 1,500 of which are self-employed.

It’s understandable that we feel loss and pessimism. In less than one lifetime, we have witnessed the bust of the old-growth based boom industry with the departure of some large companies that provided good wages, health and retirement benefits, and scholarships for our children. Many businesses and much personal wealth have been built with timber dollars.

Sadly, we can’t bring back the past. We can’t make a boom industry boom again. But the Forest Products industry is still an integral part of our economy and it is sustainable here. It still pays 30 percent higher than the regional average wage, and we anticipate about 2,400 jobs opening up as people retire from the industry.

It’s time for a new story. Today, Forest Products is a key industry among others that are bringing new products to market. Through Prosperity 2012, we asked business owners and executives what opportunities and constraints do their industries need to address. This process involved a cross-section of leaders in each of the eight target industries. Even as over 450 community leaders helped shape the action plan of our economic development strategy, the target industry priorities remained the foundation and focus of the actions.

For the leaders in the Forest Products industry, re-building the market share of redwood is a real opportunity. Like cotton in the 1960s losing market share to synthetic fabrics, redwood has lost about 40 percent market to composite decking materials. Plastic and composite decking brands debuted in the 1990s with aggressive marketing campaigns. (Today Trex, the plastic decking leader, spends about $20 million a year on marketing). Redwood did not respond. Until now.

The benefits of using redwood are compelling — the natural material is stronger, more beautiful, less expensive, more comfortable to the touch, and far more environmentally friendly than plastic/composite products.

For example, plastic/composite products spew emissions into the atmosphere when they are produced, while redwood actually reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ask yourself: Where does a plastic/composite deck go when the deck is replaced? In the landfill. If it burns, in our air.

Humboldt Redwood Company and The California Redwood Company, along with the Humboldt County Economic Development Division, are collaborating and pooling resources to bring customers back to redwood.

Together, we utilized market research to create a new advertising campaign touting the benefits of “Real. Strong. Redwood.” A large research panel was shown a short video clip about the benefits of redwood decking versus plastic/composite decking; after viewing the clip, reports showed their buying intentions changed dramatically to redwood.

With the Real.Strong.Redwood campaign, The California Redwood Company and Humboldt Redwood Company have launched a 10-year mission to make redwood the premier brand in decking. Their investments for the first three years match a $750,000 grant from the Headwaters Fund Forest Products Initiative.

The advertising campaign consists of online and television ads that contrast the benefits of redwood decking, with the failures that many homeowners have experienced using artificial, plastic composite materials. The campaign also includes the web site, and a strong social and traditional media presence.

It’s not just a sales pitch. The truth is on our side. We do a beautiful job growing redwood, in forests that also support wildlife, fish and water quality. This is an important part of our new story.

We’re celebrating the success of this Real.Strong.Redwood campaign on Saturday, Aug. 3, during Arts Alive! by shining a spotlight on the exemplary forest stewardship being lived every day in Humboldt County. At the event, we’ll share five video documentaries that reveal how families, tribes and communities are caring for the redwood forests. The videos feature the McWhorter Family Ranch, the Bussman Ranch, the Yurok Tribe Redwood Forest, the McAdams Family Forest, and the Arcata Community forest.

Humboldt County envisions a thriving region that leverages our unique environmental assets, the talents of our people, the artisanal products we produce and the spirit of our community. Real.Strong.Redwood is just one example of how we’re re-growing our economy. See for yourself on Aug. 3 at 5 p.m. in the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center, 2nd and G streets in Eureka — and then let us know how we can help your industry, too.

Jacqueline Debets is the Economic Development Coordinator for the County of Humboldt.