Area Development
What do forestry resources have to do with the food and beverage industry? It turns out…a lot.

For example, thoughts of Kentucky’s primary economic drivers typically focus on bourbon, horses, and automobiles. However, one day soon, it also could become known for ice cream sticks.

In October, Smart Wood — a French family-owned manufacturer of ice cream and coffee stir sticks formerly known as Euro Sticks Group — celebrated the opening of its U.S. affiliate in the Southeast Kentucky Business Park in Corbin, which will employ 90 and manufacture some two billion ice cream and coffee stir sticks annually. Eastern Kentucky’s rich supply of beech trees helped attract Smart Wood, as the hardwood is known for its strength and largely lacks odor and flavor.

“Abundant beech resources and the availability of quality manpower were major factors in our decision to locate our new plant in Kentucky,” said Frédéric Debacker, Smart Wood president and owner. “We look forward to operating a successful manufacturing operation that contributes to the Kentucky economy.”

The rapid growth in the world’s thirst for bourbon also has increased the demand for bourbon and whiskey barrels made from Kentucky wood. American Stave Company LLC recently announced plans for a second mill in Kentucky to manufacture barrel staves. The Benton location will add 40 additional jobs.

These two new companies, plus a variety of others, have brought additional attention to Kentucky’s immense resources for wood manufacturing. Kentucky has the second most diverse hardwood species mix in the nation and 12.4 million acres of forestland; that’s 48 percent of the state. That underused market, combined with the state’s logistical and distribution advantages and workforce, has led to several new and expansion projects within the wood manufacturing industry of late. In the last two-and-a-half years alone, wood manufacturers have announced more than 60 new locations and expansion in the Commonwealth, accounting for more than $140 million in investments and 1,500 new jobs.

“People don’t always realize the contribution that wood products make to the food and beverage industry,” said the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s Joe Lilly. “Proper management of our abundant forest land is just another tremendous asset we have to offer food and beverage industries looking for a place to grow or expand. The growth of the wood manufacturing industry in Kentucky is certainly a trend we intend to capitalize on and build upon into the future.”