Let’s face it, this past year has been crazy. Toilet paper panic, quarantine, shutdowns, layoffs, working from home, distance learning, we’ve really been through it all. COVID-19 has affected just about every facet of society in some way, and we have all had to adjust our game plan and use a little bit of creativity over the past year to try and continue with business as usual as best as we can. One group that has shown incredible resolve to continue operations with a little bit of ingenuity throughout the pandemic is the Southern Forest Products Association.
The Southern Forest Products Association is America’s first and oldest southern pine trade association. Since 1915, SFPA has been dedicated to advancing the southern pine lumber industry, promoting the use of member products in domestic and international markets, and facilitating the exchange of information and ideas. SFPA boasts an impressive membership roster that represents 45% of industry capacity for southern pine, and more that 100 associate member companies who provide products and services to the industry.
A prominent part of SFPA’s activities involves maintaining a robust schedule of in-person international educational seminars and trade missions aimed at developing the market for southern pine lumber in key areas around the world. These international events are integral to how SFPA serves both members and the industry as a whole, but with COVID travel restrictions and concerns about social distancing, they simply couldn’t take place as planned. Without missing a beat, SFPA staff successfully restructured their international educational seminars into a virtual format using Zoom. Reorganizing the events into a webinar format was hardly straight forward considering the need for multiple presenters, PowerPoints, and interpreters, but SFPA managed to make the transition seamless and has held successful international webinars in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Dominica and the British Virgin Islands, and Antigua and Curaçao.
The seminars are tailored for a wide range of industry professionals, from dealers and contractors to architects, and address relevant topics depending on the needs of each country. Just a few examples of presentation topics include, sustainability of U.S. softwoods, choosing and applying pressure-treated lumber for use in construction, and properly choosing lumber grades for structural use.
The Dominican Republic and Jamaica
In late June 2020, SFPA conducted its first webinars—a pair of training seminars targeting lumber traders and construction professionals in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. These two areas are currently the two largest markets for southern pine lumber in the Caribbean. Although U.S. softwoods have long held a dominant share in these markets, their market share is being threatened by alternatives like concrete and steel, so continuous educational efforts are necessary in the region to maintain market share and ensure that wood is specified and applied correctly.
The seminars reached 43 traders and construction professionals across both countries. Exit surveys show that the seminars were successful in increasing attendee understanding of U.S. softwoods and intent to increase purchases.
Education and promotional efforts continued in July 2020 with a training webinar in Costa Rica. Costa Rica shows strong potential for U.S. softwoods, yet export volumes have been tiny relative to other markets in the region mainly due to a lack of knowledge of U.S. softwoods. To remedy this knowledge gap, the Costa Rica lumber training focused on technical aspects of proper selection and use of U.S. softwood lumber.
Exit surveys from the webinar’s 42 attendees indicate an interest in future training efforts in the area.
Dominica and the British Virgin Islands
Efforts continued in mid-September with an educational webinar in the British Virgin Islands and Dominica. This webinar was particularly significant, as it was the first time in over a decade that SFPA has addressed these markets.
While the U.S. had a dominant share of the market in the Leeward Islands—which encompasses the British Vir-gin Islands and Dominica—there is competition from alternative building materials such as concrete and steel. Continuous efforts are needed in the area to ensure correct structural application of wood products as there remains some misunderstanding of wood-frame construction practices and selecting the proper grades and sizes for the application. To that end, September’s webinar focused on proper selection and use of U.S. softwood lumber and was largely attended by lumber traders and construction professionals.
Antigua and Curacao
SFPA wrapped up last year’s schedule of webinars with Antigua and Curaçao in late October. Like elsewhere in the Caribbean, the U.S. has a dominant share of these markets but faces competition from alternative building materials such as concrete and steel. As seen throughout the Caribbean, the driving force behind this competition stems from a general misunderstanding of wood-frame construction practices and selecting the proper grades and sizes for the application. The webinar sought to remedy some of these misunderstandings, and the 23 professionals who attended indicated that they were likely to increase purchases of U.S. softwoods following the event.
Altogether, the seminars have reached well over 100 individuals, and SFPA’s message was heard loud and clear. Exit surveys indicate that the overwhelming majority of attendees left the events more confident in their knowledge and are more likely to purchase and import southern pine lumber. While SFPA shares the general details of their international activities with the public, you’ll have to become a member if you want to know more. Detailed trip reports, survey results, and contact lists from each seminar are conveniently posted to SFPA’s online Members Only portal, allowing members to log in and access reports as far back as 2012.
Fully embracing the virtual event trend, SFPA also presented a free virtual summit on Dec. 8, 2020. This event was a first for SFPA and featured presentations and live Q&A sessions with industry experts. Topics addressed covered the current climate of the southern pine lumber industry, what to expect down the road, and provide insights valuable to everybody in the wood products industry. The Summit was well attended, and speakers included Jim Dudley (Culpeper Wood Preservers), Deb Calvert (People First Productivity Solutions), Paul Jannke (Forest Economic Advisors), Jeff Miller (Treated Wood Council), and Ryan Flom (Softwood Lumber Board).
You can learn more about these activities, find out how to become an SFPA member, and more at SFPA.org.