N.Y. paper company chief calls for more logging in the Adirondacks
That's what keynote speaker Deba Mukherjee, Finch Paper LLC president and CEO, told 250 business and elected leaders gathered Friday at Warren County Economic Development Corp.'s annual luncheon at Great Escape Lodge.
Finch, with 625 employees in Warren, Saratoga and Washington counties, is one of the area's largest private employers.
"The paper industry has undergone tremendous change in the past decade," Mukherjee said. "Finch has not been immune to these changes. We are developing a new business model."
Plans call for infrastructure modernization, energy efficiencies and an expansion of paper converting operations. Mukherjee said the company has added 40 new customers in the past four months and is supplying 20 new products to large and small markets.
In a separate venture, Finch last year acquired Saratoga County's landfill in Northumberland and is expected to start accepting municipal solid waste there later this year, another source of revenue. That landfill is adjacent to a sludge landfill where the company disposes of waste from the papermaking process.
Mukherjee called on banks and financial institutions to give loggers the funding needed for expensive equipment, and schools to provide training and encourage people to pursue this type of work.
In addition to Forest Preserve additions, Mukherjee said land subdivision has resulted in small parcels, making timber harvesting more difficult.
But John Sheehan of the Adirondack Council environmental group defended state forestland policies. In about the past 20 years, the state has purchased the conservation easement rights to 778,000 acres in the Adirondacks, which prohibits development, but allows timbering to continue "in an environmentally responsible way," he said.
In contrast, a newly-released Regional Assessment Report says less than half that amount - 355,000 acres - has been added to the Forest Preserve since 1972.
"The state has been very judicious about which new lands it's been adding to the Forest Preserve," Sheehan said.
Only the most environmentally sensitive areas have been purchased outright, he said.
Finch spokesman John Brodt said, "This is certainly more advantageous to the forest products industry when wood continues to come off the land."
The former Finch Pruyn Co., which became Finch Paper, sold off all 162,000 acres of its Adirondack land holdings to The Nature Conservancy when new owners bought the company in 2007. The Nature Conservancy sold 94,000 to a private timber management company. The agreement allows Finch to continue drawing forest products from that land for a 20-year period.
The state is in the process of purchasing the remaining 68,000 acres, which will be added to the Forest Preserve. It includes some of the Adirondacks' most ecologically important sites such as Hudson River Gorge and Essex Chain of Lakes.
Historically, about 10 percent of Finch's wood supply came from its lands in the Adirondacks. The rest is from other sites within a roughly 100-mile radius, which has been expanding as sources have been harder to come by.
The luncheon's theme, highlighting the forest product industry's importance to the North Country, was "Where would we be without wood?" Representatives of SCA in South Glens Falls, a mill that specializes in recycled paper products, and Irving Tissue in Fort Edward, which makes Scotties facial and bath tissue, were also on hand.
The Business Council of New York State President Heather C. Briccetti said manufacturing jobs on average pay $18,000 per year more than those in other sectors. The recently adopted state budget features tax relief for all types of manufacturing including real property tax credits.
"We're very pleased with the direction the state is going," she said.
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