By Mike Leischner
STEVENS POINT, WI (WSAU) — Governor Tony Evers announced an $8 million grant for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to purchase equipment and create classroom and training space for the next generation of forestry workers.
Les Werner is the director of the Wisconsin Forestry Center at UW-Stevens Point and the lead author of the grant. He called the forestry industry a “pillar” of Wisconsin’s economy. “This is absolutely critical to keeping [forestry] in that position,” he said.
“We need skilled, entry-level people,” he added. “It’s a refrain that we hear over and over.”
Among the initiatives that will be funded by the grant include a sawmill complex with a simulator that will create the state’s only start-to-finish wood products training center and a mobile forestry unit that will include simulators, a portable sawmill and kiln, and forestry tools that can be set up at local high schools to help teach forestry skills.
Werner, who is also a professor teaching forestry at UWSP, says the need for entry-level, skilled workers has gotten so great that he recently had someone from the industry tell a class of 35 students that he would hire each one of them on the spot.
“The demand is real, it’s growing, and it’s becoming urgent,” he added.
Others in attendance for Tuesday’s announcement included State Representative Katrina Shankland, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Secretary Missy Hughes, UWSP Chancellor Thomas Gibson, and UWSP College of Natural Resources Dean Brian Sloss.
Shankland praised the grant, saying “As a member of the Wisconsin Council on Forestry, I know that the forestry industry is foundational to Wisconsin’s economy and substantially contributes to our state’s economic prosperity. This $8 million grant will be transformational for the forestry industry in Wisconsin as it develops the workforce, strengthens educational partnerships, and creates new career pathways. This program will help ensure Wisconsin’s youth learn about forestry early and encourage and support them in participating in the industry through skill development curricula and pathways to stable, well-paying jobs.”