Washington DC was an appropriate venue for the 2016 NHLA Annual Convention, given all the political uncertainties for the USA and the American hardwood industry in October.
With a changed programme format, moving association management to day two and a newly appointed CEO, Ms Lorna Christie, about nine hundred delegates met for the convention which included 82 companies and organisations exhibiting at the Exhibit Showcase. As always there were keynote sessions, specialist seminars and presentations, social events, a golf tournament and receptions by other hardwood associations. Two seminar panels of note were the NHLA General Session Keynote Panel and an international ‘Markets & Promotion of American Hardwoods’ Panel by all the directors from the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC).
The event opened with an evening ‘Welcome Reception’ in the gardens of the Omni Shoreham Hotel followed next morning by keynote presentations from Robert Reich and Charles Krauthammer – two of the most eminent political commentators in Washington. They were introduced by past NHLA Chairman Ted Rossi on behalf of the Rossi Group, sponsor of the Opening Session. Mr Krauthammer introduced himself as a “psychiatrist in remission” and the rather short Mr Reich suggested that this election had worn him down! Their thoughtful and often amusing views and dialogue provided the basis for serious consideration of “the craziest Presidential campaign in living memory” – one in which both candidates are weak, they agreed. “America is not talking to each other and the candidates are not discussing the issues, such as national debt, trade, child poverty, foreign policy and climate change, for example”. Any trade war with China, they warned, would hurt the American hardwood industry if tariffs against China were to be introduced, as threatened. But finally “the best way to learn,” they concluded “is to talk to someone who disagrees with you.”
Making her inaugural speech to the Convention, Ms Lorna Christie said that the Grading Rules will always be the core for NHLA but a new member’s survey will define the future with new and improved services. ‘Learning’ is currently her number one priority but clearly telling the hardwood story, building relationships and developing supply chains are likely to be top of the list as NHLA moves forward. Looking to the past however Ms Christie acknowledged members with 30, 50 and 75 years continuous membership of NHLA before making special reference, with a short video, to Hartzell Hardwoods having joined 100 years ago. Today Hartzell is famous for supplying thick oak and walnut.
On Friday morning opening the keynote session, Mark Barford was awarded (in his absence due to Hurricane Matthew) Honorary Life Membership of NHLA by unanimous vote of the Board for his 10 years dedicated service. This is the first time a CEO of NHLA has been so awarded. Then a panel of four experts each addressed the delegates, followed by a Q&A session. Norm Murray described the work of the Forest Foundation with its educational ‘Truth about Trees’ initiative. Dr Chad Oliver discussed the underutilization of forests and John ‘Buddy’ Showalter of the American Wood Council talked about wood in construction. Moderating the panel Dana Cole, Executive Director of the Hardwood Federation, first outlined its activities in Washington DC alerting politicians to issues relating to the industry. She encouraged members of NHLA to join the regular ‘fly-ins’ to meet members of Congress personally to discuss industry issues.
A well-attended session was presented by forest inventory analyst William ‘Bill’ Luppold, USDA Forest Service. He examined changes in hardwood consumption and prices over the last decade and discussed the current market and regional shifts in domestic consumption.
At a packed ‘International Markets Panel’ session, Mike Snow, AHEC Executive Director, first reviewed the development of export markets with emphasis on the increasing importance of China and Vietnam, now number one and two outside North America. He explained AHEC’s strategy, with the three objectives of developing new markets and new applications for grade lumber and promoting the environmental credentials of American hardwoods. He stressed that domestic market sectors, all in long-term decline, are no longer driving prices. He went on to demonstrate some of the recent projects that are part of the push and pull strategy, with the latest ‘SMILE’ project in London having created extraordinary publicity for Tulipwood CLT in the world’s media. Another project in Mexico had achieved promotion to 40 million people on 20 TV channels. Mr Snow introduced all of AHEC’s overseas regional directors, who each addressed the audience. Finally he paid tribute to all the world class AHEC staff for creating ideas and implementing programmes and he concluded with the hope that AHEC can “replace the negative messages (about wood) with our positive messages”. During a Q&A session Mike Snow described exactly how U.S. exporters can now provide America Hardwood Environmental Profiles (AHEPs) with detailed impact data for any container of any species for any destination, to their individual customers. Consultant to AHEC, Rupert Oliver, said that the new interactive maps of U.S. Hardwood forest resources are second to none and show that in all U.S. States with hardwood forests growth exceeds removals. John Chan announced the next (2017) Annual Convention in China in the 2nd tier port city of Qingdao – a centre of logistics and design in eastern Shandong Province on the east coast of China.
The next NHLA convention is scheduled for 25-27th October 2017 in Nashville, TN.