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Ivey touts forestry’s impact

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey was in Greenville Monday to discuss job opportunities in the forest industry. Ivey serves as the spokesperson for the Black Belt Initiative, which aims to keep Black Belt youth in their home region by making them aware of scholarship opportunities at state universities for forestry and engineering majors and of job opportunities in the forest industry. (Advocate Staff/Andy Brown)

As a young girl Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey dreamed of getting an education and returning to Wilcox County, where she would find a job and be an active part of the community.

Her dream has changed over the years.

Now, she dreams of students from the Black Belt getting an education and returning to the region, finding a job and being an active part of the community.

Ivey, who was in Greenville Monday to discuss job opportunities in the forest industry, said she has seen a “brain drain” occurring in the region during the last several years as students obtain advanced training and degrees and then leave the area to seek employment.

She’s looking for a way to keep those students in the region, and she believes the Black Belt Initiative can help do just that.

The Black Belt Initiative aims to keep Black Belt youth in their home region by making them aware of scholarship opportunities at state universities for forestry and engineering majors and of job opportunities in the forest industry.

“Forestry is a very stable industry. The forestry and timber industry, yes it’s big in the state, but it’s stable,” Ivey said addressing the crowd of community leaders and educators. “Jobs stay here, they’re not transient … it’s a chance to come back home, raise your family and have a real career in forestry.”

Ivey said one-in-10 workers in Alabama come from the forestry industry.

“Recognize we’re in something very stable,” Ivey said. “Forestry accounts for 10 percent of gross domestic product, or GDP. Forestry is something we can be proud of and perpetuate it with our young people.”

Ivey said bringing a positive message of forestry to students early, is key to creating a legacy within the state.

Foundation representative Tom Saunders said it’s all about getting others to think in a new way about forestry and see the benefits.

“The negative images aren’t fair to our industry,” Saunders said. “We want to create in this industry an importance in our young people’s lives; timber touches your lives and we believe it’s an asset.”

Saunders, who received a Bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Auburn University, said he didn’t know what a paper mill was until his junior year in college.
“Reaching out to these kids at a young age would be valuable,” Saunders said. “We support anything in schools that helps these kids do not only good in reading, but in math and science.”

Goals of the initiative, Saunders said, include bringing more public awareness about forestry through billboards and advertisements, and getting communities and schools involved.