Gov. Mark R. Warner announced today the opening of a new Forest Industries Center research facility at Virginia Tech. The center was established with funding from the Sloan Foundation, forest industry organizations, and Virginia Tech, and seeks to promote the global competitiveness and sustainable growth of America's diverse forest industries. The center is located on Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus and begins its operations today.

"The center's formation is timely, in view of the increasingly stiff competition faced by America's forest industries in world markets," Warner said. "We need to act now to become more competitive in the global marketplace. This new center brings together many diverse talents to support industry efforts to compete effectively, adopt better technology, and become more responsive to consumer demand."

The center has developed a consortium of experts from industry, academia, and government that recognizes the importance of linking marketing practices and manufacturing processes. The center's activities focus on research, technology transfer, and expanding the skills, diversity, and quality of the workforce.

Warner convened a Virginia Forest Industries summit this past spring that brought together industry, government, and academic experts. The purpose of the summit was to look at ways to strengthen Virginia's forest industries and preserve the forestland base. The Sloan Center will enable Virginia Tech and the commonwealth to provide innovative leadership for these issues in the coming years. The forest industries are both Virginia's largest agricultural sector and its largest industrial sector. The industry employs, directly and indirectly, about 250,000 people in the state.

Announcing the establishment of the Forest Industries Center at Virginia Tech during a conference today in Reston, Va., Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Michael J. Schewel said the center will assist the nation's forest industries through research, teaching, and industry outreach programs that will enhance the industries' manufacturing technology and efficiency and workforce education and skills. "The center will bring together all the key stakeholders in forest industries to address the challenges facing this sector," Schewel said. "The Center will help the commonwealth leverage its investments in worker training and research and development to attract new businesses and support our current industries."

Virginia Tech joins 17 other universities across the nation, including Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, and Columbia, which house Sloan Industry Centers. "Given the selectiveness of the Sloan Foundation's awards for such centers," Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said, "we're delighted to have its support — which is a recognition of the quality of our researchers and our leadership in forest industries."

Virginia Tech, Steger said, is well placed to assist the nation's forest industries. "Our faculty in marketing, wood science and forest products, and forestry are nationally renowned and have forged a strong partnership to study the needs of the nation's forest industries."

Earl Kline, a Virginia Tech wood products professor who specializes in industrial systems engineering, views forest industries as an important engine in the domestic economy. "This sector employs more than 1.5 million people, has an annual payroll of $51 billion, and ranks among the top 10 manufacturing employers in 42 of our states."

The value of forest products shipped overseas tops $250 billion each year. But, Kline, said, "We are losing our manufacturing base in America because our businesses are not competitive in the global marketplace — although we have the resource base, knowledge, and manufacturing productivity to be net exporters."

The center will work with companies in primary processing and secondary manufacturing industries; retailers of forest products; academic experts in forestry, wood products, and business; state government officials; and representatives of the USDA Forest Service.

Center director and marketing professor David Brinberg said the center's faculty will examine issues specific to the industry, conduct executive and continuing education programs, and prepare graduate and undergraduate students for careers in forest industries.

"In our work, we will take a comprehensive view of forest industries that will help us identify barriers to the efficient functioning of the supply chain — from the trees in the forest all the way to the consumer," Brinberg said. "We will create innovative strategies that will make our forest industries more competitive in the global marketplace and sustain their future growth and development."

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to become the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, Virginia Tech's eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to fulfilling its vision to be among the top 30 research universities in the nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 170 academic degree programs.

The Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, nonprofit organization established in 1934 by Alfred P. Sloan Jr., then president and CEO of General Motors.