Integrity. A team player. Strong communication skills. Work ethic and commitment.

These are the traits and skills Ken Morgan values the most in an employee and what he hopes to instill in students graduating from the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Morgan and his son, John, own Morgan Lumber Company, a family-owned business based in Charlotte County, Virginia, founded in 1939 by Ken’s grandfather, J.C. Morgan, and his sons Billy and Willard. Since Ken assumed management of the business in 1981, with John taking the reins in 2010, Morgan Lumber Company has expanded to four companies.

The original company began operations with an ever-so-simple portable ground sawmill. The mill was transported from farm to farm, where landowners sold their timber on a per unit basis. Morgan Lumber has grown from six employees producing 400,000 board-feet of lumber annually to 105 employees producing 80 million board-feet. The company has kept pace with technological advances by utilizing a fully computerized sawmill in manufacturing kiln-dried southern yellow pine lumber.

Early in his career, Morgan saw both the potential to grow and expand the business and the importance of keeping pace with the competition. “Even if a business owner or manager is ahead of the competition, stopping to pause on a plateau or becoming complacent means the leader will soon fall behind,” he said.

Morgan is in a position where he can reach out and help others by giving back to an organization that once reached out a hand to him. Now he is funding a new director of employer relations position in the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

The position will be part of the college’s efforts to better link the forestry and forest products sector with Virginia Tech, community colleges, and high school students, fostering awareness of employment needs and opportunities in the sector and, ultimately, ensuring a sustainable forest industry in Virginia and beyond.

“Ken Morgan has always believed that it is all about the people and the relationships, both in a business sense and in his leadership within the forestry sector in Virginia,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the college. “Ken’s high professional standards, conviction to a sustainable world through forestry and forest products, and long-standing generosity to the college and many other organizations demonstrate how an individual and a business care about people and the future of Virginia and our country.”

“My role as dean has been influenced by Ken,” Winistorfer continued. “He is always helping me be better and see the bigger picture. The position of director of employer relations will be a cornerstone and a linkage for the college, our students, and the forestry sector, as well as a testament to the vision and goodwill of Ken Morgan and his employees at Morgan Lumber Company.”

Morgan reflected on the beginnings of his almost-30-year relationship with Virginia Tech and how his organization has benefitted. “I realized if we were going to prosper in business, I had to seek the cooperation of people with strong training and vision in the forest industry.”

At about the same time as Morgan realized the need for outside talent, he received a call from John Hosner, head of the then School of Forestry and Wildlife Resources at Virginia Tech, who was contacting industry leaders, seeking partnerships and support for what would become the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

Hosner became a mentor to Morgan and initiated a partnership with the business owner that ultimately led to the hiring of Virginia Tech graduates. These employees helped propel Morgan Lumber into the high-tech era of lumber manufacturing and, even more importantly for Morgan, possessed the personal traits and leadership skills that have defined the company’s success.

These same skills continue to be sought in today’s graduates. The director of employer relations position, which has initially been funded for three years, will be instrumental in developing contacts and partnerships with industry professionals in order to create the hands-on learning opportunities that are critical in preparing students for the job market. These experiences include classroom visits, tours of facilities, career counseling and assistance, and internships.

According to Morgan, the concept for the position and how it will elevate the ongoing relationship between Morgan Lumber Company and the college is appealing because “it will close the gap between the classroom and the job.”

Of special interest are the internships that will result. These opportunities benefit companies by providing employees who need less training, resulting in a lower rate of turnover. Morgan believes that graduates who receive these learning opportunities will start their first day on the job in third gear rather than first.

The new director of employer relations will have another area of focus that is a priority for Morgan — helping to recruit students from Southwest and Southside Virginia who are interested in returning after graduation and finding employment in the region. According to Morgan, this area, known as the wood basket of Virginia, has the resources needed to support a strong timber industry.

These sentiments are echoed by Winistorfer. “The forestry and forest products sector is the third largest industry in the state, generating over $21 billion a year and providing 107,000 jobs,” he said. “As the largest land-grant university in Virginia, it’s our responsibility to produce top-quality graduates to enter these amazing jobs.”

Winistorfer anticipates that the new position will create a pipeline of graduates who are well-prepared with the technical know-how demanded by this high-tech industry and the people skills and work ethic that are so valued by Morgan. “The position will help us all be more successful and demonstrate Virginia Tech’s role in the commonwealth through our land-grant heritage and mission,” he added.

In relation to the timeline for the position, Winistorfer hopes to have someone in place by early 2019. The first priorities for the new director of employer relations will be meeting with employers across the commonwealth to understand their needs and then working to develop opportunities like internships for companies and organizations to plug into the work progress at Virginia Tech.