Across Arkansas, forestland stretches as far as the eye can see. Trees, big and small, are coming up from the rich soil, providing the raw material for a booming timber and forest products industry in the state.
Located squarely in the nation’s wood basket, Arkansas is a leading destination for timber, paper and forest products companies looking for abundant resources, a talented workforce, and a welcoming business climate. It’s a potent combination that has attracted national and international firms, and has enabled existing companies to aggressively expand to meet customer demand.
The sheer abundance of wood in Arkansas is a driving factor in attracting new companies to the state. Forests cover 54.8 percent of the state’s land area for a total of 19 million acres of forestland. Of that total, 15.3 million acres, or 80 percent, is private land, while the remaining 3.7 million acres is public land.
Arkansas boasts a wide variety of tree species throughout its forestlands. At 10.8 million acres, hardwoods make up the majority, or 57 percent, of the tree acreage in Arkansas. There are 3.2 million acres of natural pine stands and three million acres of planted pine stands throughout the state. Mixed pine and hardwoods make up the last 10 percent of tree acreage in Arkansas.
Maintaining the renewability of the state’s timber resources is a high priority, and local leaders are ensuring that timber remains renewable and plentiful through a robust sustainability program. For every tree harvested in the state, 1.7 trees are replanted and grown. Arkansas is #4 in the American South for the total number of seedlings grown and is #1 for the number of hardwood seedlings grown.
There is active, enthusiastic support for the timber and forest products industry in the state Capitol and around the state. Governor Asa Hutchinson has said that the timber industry in Arkansas is “more important than ever, and government agencies play a key role in helping companies manage their timber resources. The Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division is a close industry partner, providing companies with written forest management plans on best practices. The Forestry Division also provides information on tree planting, site preparation, and timber stand improvement, as well as site recommendations for protection and improvement of the state’s water and wetland resources.”
One of the most essential elements of Arkansas’ timber and forest products industry is its workforce and workforce training infrastructure.
With roughly 28,000 people employed in the industry, institutions across the state are providing forest product companies with qualified, well-trained employees. Each day across Arkansas, nearly 10 different institutions provide up-to-date training, equipping the next generation of forest production workers. The University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) is the state’s leader in timber education, offering a variety of degree programs and utilizing 1,400 acres of timberland for research to ensure tomorrow’s workforce matches its forests: strong, resilient and innovative. UAM also serves as headquarters for the Arkansas Forest Resources Center, a University of Arkansas Center of Excellence, with the mission of developing and delivering superior programs in research and extension that enhance and ensure the sustainability of forest-based natural resources.
According to Dr. Matthew Pelkki, the George H Clippard Endowed Chair of Forestry at the University of Arkansas Monticello, the combination of workforce and resources makes Arkansas a strong, long-term leader in the timber industry.
“We’re well-positioned in the central United States,” Pelkki said. “We’ve got a really good quality workforce, and our resource base is going to permit sustainability.”
“I think Arkansas is uniquely and very well positioned to see growth in the timberland.”
More timber companies are seeing Arkansas’ growth potential and are moving into the state.
Dansons USA set its sights on south Arkansas, announcing its plans to set up the nation’s largest barbecue wood pellet mill and distribution center in Hope. These pellets will be manufactured for the company’s Pit Boss Grills and Louisiana Grills brands.
“We are blessed to be able to expand our operation and open our new pellet mill location in Hope, Arkansas. The state of Arkansas has been the most welcoming, most friendly and most encouraging location we’ve ever done business in. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission, from the town, county and state level, has welcomed us with open arms from the onset of this project, said Dansons President Jeff Thiessen. “We believe in relationships and people and we really like the people we are working with.”
Dansons is not the only company that has set down roots in Arkansas in recent years.
In 2021 alone, Drax Group announced plans to invest $40 million to develop three new satellite pellet plants in Arkansas that will provide biomass pellets for power stations in the United Kingdom, and FiberPro in Hot Springs unveiled its plans to expand its manufacturing facility, investing more than $3.1 million and creating 69 new jobs.
Koppers, a treated wood products provider, is investing $23 million at its North Little Rock facility, purchasing new equipment and modernizing its processes.
“When Koppers had the opportunity to invest in the future, we chose the dedicated workforce and exceptional community of North Little Rock,” said Chris Martin, plant manager of Koppers North Little Rock. “This is a place where people work hard, and we support each other.”
Structurlam, a Canadian mass timber firm, chose Arkansas to set up its first U.S. plant. Based in Conway, this facility – a $90 million investment – provides mass timber products, sourced from Arkansas-grown trees, for Walmart’s new Home Office campus in Bentonville.
“At Structurlam, we’re transforming wood, one of nature’s most renewable resources, into a greener, more cost-effective, and aesthetically-pleasing alternative to concrete and steel. We’re proud to establish roots in the great state of Arkansas and the City of Conway, and support Walmart as the exclusive supplier of mass timber products for its new home office campus,” Structurlam CEO Hardy Wentzel said.
These companies join a strong existing industry made up of companies that include Anthony Timberlands Inc., The Bryce Corporation, Clearwater Paper, Domtar, Evergreen Packaging, Green Bay Packaging, Georgia-Pacific, Graphic Packaging International, Hood Packaging, International Paper Company, PotlatchDeltic, Rockline Industries, West Fraser, WestRock Corporation, and Weyerhaeuser.
These new and existing companies are helping to make Arkansas’ timber and forest products industry stronger and stronger every day. Arkansas is constantly growing its timber industry as new companies discover the plentiful resources, trained workforce, business-ready environment that Arkansas has to offer.
For timber and forest products companies, Arkansas has one message: We’re ready for business.