Making wood the building material of choice could create thousands of jobs nationwide and reduce the country's reliance on international exports.
That's the message from business chambers and forestry leaders across the country who are calling on the Government to adopt a 'wood-first' policy.
The policy would mean homegrown wood and processed timber would be the preferred building material for publicly-funded residential, commercial and public buildings post Covid-19.
Rotorua Lakes Council adopted such a policy five years ago and was the first council to do so. Now the Rotorua, Tauranga, Eastern Bay of Plenty, Auckland and several other business chambers say central government should do the same.
They say doing so could create more than 3000 jobs nationwide.
Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bryce Heard said prioritising wood would allow the Government and private sector to "support core primary producers in times of greatest need" and this would also stimulate investment in New Zealand's engineered wood products.
Deloitte research indicates a 25 per cent increase in the use of wood products for construction would create more than 3000 jobs across wood processing, forestry and transport industries and at ports nationwide, as well as indirect support jobs.
Red Stag Timber is among the forestry firms supporting the push.
Chief executive Marty Verry said about 60 per cent of Red Stag Timber's products were bought domestically and the balance internationally.
Nationwide, in the year to June 2018, 48 per cent of New Zealand's total forestry exports went to China.
Verry said the country's forestry and wood processing industry could cater for a sharp increase in domestic demand but there was potential for production for both the domestic and international markets to increase.
"The opportunity is to grow the sector, not only support it ... and develop export markets for higher-value export products."
He told NZME adopting a wood-first policy would trigger an expansion process as the policy was rolled out "to allow sufficient time to scale up".
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Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said he supported anything that added value to the New Zealand forestry industry.
"We shouldn't forget as we come out of this global health crisis, we are also facing a global economic crisis. Forestry is a big part of our economy. I am amazed at how quickly the industry has got going again in the last week [under Covid-19 alert level 3]. It's certainly a resilient industry."
He did not think a domestic wood-first policy domestically would reduce log and timber freight at New Zealand ports.
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said he was "a huge fan" of the push.
"It [a potential policy] needs to create jobs, whatever we do, while accepting that automation will be a big part of the production process," he said.
He also echoed Verry's hopes for New Zealand timber products to be globally competitive.
"That is hard for us as a first-world country with the high cost of living and wages."
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said she would do whatever she could to encourage central government to consider a wood-first policy.
She said forestry and wood processing were "crucial" for Rotorua's economy, accounting for about 15 per cent of GDP in the district.
"Despite taking a hit due to Covid-19, there is optimism within the forestry and wood processing sector about the future."
Chadwick said it was "great" to see the sectors "looking to rapidly adapt and work strategically".
Destination Rotorua chief executive Michelle Templer said the sectors were "at the core of Rotorua's recovery planning" and the Whakahouhia te Whare Ōhanga (Build Back Better) sector group was "exploring local strategies relating to supply chain and talent management".
Last week, Forestry Minister Shane Jones said the Government was helping attract more than 5000 additional workers in the forestry and wood-processing sector by 2025, after attending the inaugural meeting of the Forestry and Wood Processing Workforce Council.
"With a workforce of more than 38,500 and contributing more than $6.9 billion in export revenue, it will play a critical role in New Zealand's economic recovery," Jones said.
"The world wants our timber and wood products and the industry needs more workers. There is a huge opportunity for people to retrain and take up work in the industry."
"We need to build a fit-for-purpose education and training system that equips workers to carry out the increasingly sophisticated tasks," he said.
• To help regional and national economic recovery
• To support the creation of forestry, wood processing, off-site manufacturing and construction jobs
• To diversify log markets away from current heavy reliance on China
• To create an export industry for New Zealand engineered wood
• To make our built environment more environmentally friendly
• To progress New Zealand's One Billion Trees programme
• Wooden buildings often perform better in earthquakes, are faster and safer to build, can be cheaper, and minimise waste and noise from construction
Forestry in our local economy
• In 2019, there were 566 forestry support service jobs in the Rotorua district, 509 log sawmilling jobs, 432 timber resawing and dressing jobs and 430 logging jobs.
• In 2019, Tauranga city's forestry exports were worth $30.7 million and wood product manufacturing exports were worth $26.6m.