Career Tech with a Twist: ALF Senior Fellows Team to Revive an Industry

Reprinted from the August 2017 edition of the American Leadership Forum Mountain-Valley Chapter Newsletter Caribiner.

When the workforce is skilled, new businesses are attracted to the region. That premise has led to many public and private workforce development efforts in our area to support students as they choose and prepare for their job future in new industries. One such effort, led by an ALF-MVC partnership in our foothills of El Dorado County, is taking a slightly different approach — they plan to train students to revive a homegrown industry gone dormant.

Career educator Jeremy Meyers (Class XVII) and Matt Boyer (Class V) are setting out to foster a career choice that could instill a new respect for an indigenous industry, and improve the health of our state’s forests by repurposing dead and dying trees.

The targeted new skillset is an answer to a lumber industry dilemma. When California went out of the timber milling business, the state lost a generation of skilled workers who could topple trees and work the mills.  Now, there is an insufficient labor force to combat the dangerous situation caused by dead trees. The state needs more people trained to do the work.

“Meanwhile, we push kids into “white collar” tech-type jobs, not realizing that there are good paying jobs in construction and tree falling,” says Boyer.

Boyer, an ALFer who has spent a career bolstering entities by consulting in executive management, public policy, advocacy, and project management, is also a serial, social-enterprise entrepreneur.  His current quest to save the forest by repurposing dead and dying trees fits well with another life-long passion. Boyer is a career-tech cheerleader from way back.  In his capacity as a trustee of the El Dorado County Board of Education (2003-2014), his pursuit of more trades/crafts and vocational education became a signature achievement. Now he as eyes on a new one.

Boyer’s Forest Innovation, a business that identifies markets where more than 104 million dead and dying trees in California can be repurposed and become a resource for a new economy, is partnering with Principal Jeremy Meyers’ Golden Sierra High School in Garden Valley to provide an on-campus portable sawmill for a student-operated timber milling operation. Meyers, also superintendent of Black Oak Mine Unified School District, is bullish on the concept, and is looking forward to ushering approximately 40 students through the program starting this fall.

“Jeremy is so passionate,” says Boyer.  “He is willing to veer away from traditional bureaucracy if there is a chance for innovation. He is eager to bring a portable sawmill onto his campus so his kids can mill timber.”

“Matt and I were talking about the bark-beetle epidemic,” says Meyers. “I thought it would be ideal to involve schools in the solution. Let’s deal with a local problem locally, while providing an entrepreneurial opportunity for our schools.”

The two met through their shared appetites for providing meaningful education to all the students in the foothill communities of El Dorado County, and built a friendship with the help of the common ground they share as senior fellows. Senior Fellows Don Harris (Class II) and Tim Murphy (Class XVI) are also Forest Innovation believers; Harris acting as outside counsel for the endeavor, and Murphy is a board member at Community Services 2050, the parent nonprofit of Forest Innovations.

Meyers and Boyer also share the belief that kids don’t learn the same way, and all are not cut out to be scholars.

“We are trying to graduate well-rounded students. And to do that, we need to provide well-rounded educational experiences that give students a chance to explore,” says Meyers. “We continue to sell the myth that everyone must go to a four-year college. That is just not the case.”

And with the new on-campus sawmill, many of Meyers’ students will be exploring an industry that has historical roots. El Dorado County’s western slope has many communities that once were thriving lumber communities.

Boyer and Myers envision the sawmill as an instrument that can accomplish a solution to a multitude of problems. Milling lumber can be a career learning opportunity for those not on a traditional path; milling can be a recycling solution to the environmental hazard of bark-beetle infested dead trees, and milling can become a cottage industry for the school.

The sawmill, to be delivered in the next couple weeks, is being paid for by career education innovation grant dollars from the California Department of Education.

“It was because of my conversations with Matt that we were able to come up with this innovative way to utilize those categorical dollars,” Meyers says.

Forest Innovations has several partnerships with schools, artisans, and UC Davis in arrangements where Forest Innovations procures the free wood to fuel creativity for repurposing the resource.

“What Jeremy is doing is the coolest of all of them,” says Boyer.

To start, the high school sawmill class is being matched up with locals who have fallen trees on their property. Yet to be decided, are the products that will come from the lumber milling. Meyers likes the idea of creating park quality, picnic table and bench kits. 

“We have an opportunity to run these dead trees through the high school to make good products. “We could package a kit, shrink wrap it, put it on a pallet and drop ship it anywhere.”

Because the wood is free, there are profit margins in the equations.  Community nonprofits could benefit from the proceeds, including ones directly related to campus life such as sports team boosters.

Boyer’s ambitions are nothing short of wanting to be the person that significantly contributes to the next generation of economic development in the Central Valley and the Gold Country.

“The sawmill idea is a real community tie to an industry that can be revived. It’s a wonderful story,” he says.