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My View: Don't sacrifice rural economy to make a point

I love the excitement expressed by the Portland Tribune’s editorial board for Intel Corp.’s plan to invest $100 billion in Washington County over 30 years. It gives me a thrill to know that a company that forms an important portion of our state’s economy is making such a commitment.

However, I am dismayed that the editorial board would unnecessarily treat Oregon’s forest sector with such contempt by stating that the timber industry “clearly represents the past and not the future of Oregon’s economy.”

Why must enthusiasm for economic progress in urban Oregon come by throwing a very large portion of Oregon’s rural economy under the bus?

I live and work in Washington County and run Hampton Affiliates, a multigenerational family business, which has its headquarters here and employs 800 people directly in mostly rural Oregon, providing well-above-average wages and benefits. While our manufacturing plants in Willamina, Tillamook and Warrenton may not seem as sexy as Intel’s new D1X module that’s under construction in Hillsboro, our business has evolved and we also have to keep up with the same kind of global economic competition that Intel feels as it invests in its future here.

I would like to invite the editorial board to visit a modern sawmill with lasers, full log scanning and computerized optimization. We are among several progressive Oregon forest products companies that now make the wood for your house and the newspaper you are holding in your hands. Come see what is happening.

Through the more than 60 years of Hampton’s history, our business has been about continual capital reinvestment and commitment to our employees. And we haven’t asked for extraordinary tax treatment to do so.

In the Pacific Northwest, we source our timber from actively managed forestlands operated in compliance with state forest practice laws. We want our end-use customers to understand that their homes are built from sustainably grown wood. Our Willamina operation recently received the Governor’s Award for both energy conservation and community service, so we take corporate responsibility very seriously.

Hampton Affiliates owns and operates eight mills in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. We manufacture high-quality wood products for U.S. consumers. We also export our finished products — not our logs — to overseas markets, bringing real wealth from Asia back into Oregon’s economy. We pay at least six state and local taxes: corporate income, personal income, forestland property, industrial property, weight-mile, and forest products harvest.

The author of the column discounts the impact of Oregon’s overall forest sector economy for its “mere” 76,000 jobs, $5.2 billion in total annual income — salaries, benefits and small-company profits — and $12.7 billion in direct economic benefits. These are economic data reported in 2012 as the state emerged from the most severe recession since the Great Depression, much of it flowing through portions of the state’s rural economy. These are hardly numbers that support a thesis that the forest sector is a thing of the past. While we have trouble growing in this state due to ongoing litigation that has shut down the federal forests, we are not going away.

The editorial’s dismissive attitude is rooted in an image of the past when men went to work in the woods and labored in sawmills. Work in the woods and mills has changed considerably. Equipment in mills requires people, both men and women, who have specialized technical and professional skills to keep it running. Those who work in the woods operate increasingly specialized equipment that minimizes environmental impacts, and they do so under strict environmental standards that have evolved with new science. University and technical degrees are required for much of this work.

Portland’s urban area is the national headquarters for several forest products companies with management, sales, engineering, finance and accounting functions that are part of the urban economy. Throughout Oregon, these companies hire legions of specialized contractors whose business is directly focused on the modern forest-sector economy.

If we are to improve Oregon’s overall economy, we must celebrate all its successes. The achievements of Intel and the others in Oregon’s Silicon Forest are laudable. But let us not forget the achievements and staying power of

Oregon’s original forest. It plays a vital role in Oregon’s economy and will do so for decades to come.

Steve Zika is a lifelong Portland resident and chief executive officer of Hampton Affiliates in Washington County.