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Forest Industry Pushes 'Hawaii's Wood' Brand

Pacific Business News
February 16 2001
by Debbie Sokei

Beyond the sticky sap of the mango tree is a beautiful hardwood many artisans in Hawaii adore. Mango wood, carved into bowls and furniture, is just one of the 150 different woods grown in Hawaii.

"The mango has been predominant in several of our pieces," says Bob Holden, wood carver and co-owner of Holden Wood Design in Kailua. "It gets a lot of nice curly grain. It has pinkish-reddish hues and sometimes gray coloring." Mango is only part of Holden Wood Design's extensive library of locally grown hardwoods.

When the Holdens moved their business to Hawaii 16 years ago, koa was a popular wood and expensive. Since then, they have made a living out of carving nene birds, mallard ducks, bowls, jewelry boxes and 50-inch tall carousel-style rocking horses out of a variety of exotic hardwoods.

"Hawaii's forestry is a thriving industry that most people don't see beyond the trees," says Lloyed Jones, vice president of the Hawaii Forest Industry Association. The association is undertaking a marketing campaign to brand island-grown wood products as "Hawaii's Wood," he says. The goal of the campaign is to help the general public recognize that Hawaii produces a variety of woods. To help create the awareness, artisans can put an identity stamp on products made with local wood.

"What we are trying to do is have a recognized industry that is unique and special," says Jones. Hawaii has the only tropical forest in the United States. "The woods that grow here don't grow anywhere else, like koa and milo," he says.

The Hawaii forest industry generates revenues of more than $30 million annually. About $800,000 in raw material is sculpted or carved into products worth nearly 40 times that amount. "Some of the forward-looking ranchers are making more money growing koa than they are raising cattle," says Jones. Throughout the state there are more than 20,000 acres of koa trees being grown commercially, as well as mixed hardwood on Kauai.

Locally, there is a demand for Hawaii-made products, says David Nada, branch chief of the product trade branch of the state Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism. Now sculptors are looking beyond Hawaii to sell their art. "The industry in the past has been more of a backyard kind of industry where individual pieces are made and sold," he says. "Now, the wood workers are looking to expand production and looking outside of Hawaii as well."

Holden Wood Design [typically] has four to six months of backorders. Sales have increased threefold in the past year. "When you combine all of the different aspects of the industry and ad them all together, that's an incredibly formidable industry," Holden says.

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