This week, almost 600 business, government, First Nations and community leaders have gathered in Vancouver for the B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI) annual convention, one of B.C.’s most important business gatherings, which comes at a critical time for our industry.

This convention, our largest in over a decade, is being held in the beautiful Vancouver Convention Centre West building. It’s a fitting venue because just as the interior of that building showcases the wide array of B.C. wood that has helped build our province, this year’s convention highlights the many companies, people and innovative ideas that have made the forest industry the province’s greatest economic driver for more than a century.

While B.C. looks to innovation and new industry sectors to diversify our economy, it’s important to remind ourselves just how important the forest industry continues to be for the economic future of our province. There are about 145,000 direct and indirect forestry jobs in B.C. — that’s one out of every 16 jobs. And, 140 communities in B.C. depend on the forestry industry to drive their local economy.

Thanks to the sustainable forestry practices of B.C. forest companies, which sees us plant three trees for every tree harvested (200 million per year), B.C.’s forestry sector also plays a critical role in helping Canada meet its carbon-emissions commitments. And B.C.’s reputation as a forestry and wood-products leader is growing.

Through the work of people like our keynoter speaker, groundbreaking architect Michael Green, B.C. firms and B.C. products are helping to design and construct buildings with advanced wood products and technologies. Michael’s book, Tall Wood Buildings, includes case studies of multi-storey wooden structures around the world that should make all British Columbians proud.

The fact is, B.C.’s high-quality wood products are in demand globally, and B.C. companies — big and small — have worked hard to expand their overseas market, with shipments now going to more than 100 countries worldwide. Our exports to China have grown exponentially over the last decade, we continue to focus on Japan and Korea, and are now exploring new opportunities in India.

While we work to capitalize on market opportunities, our industry also faces some challenges. The impact of the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation, rising costs and increasing competition in the global marketplace mean that we must find new ways to evolve and compete. Thankfully, some of B.C.’s most innovative thinkers and companies are helping us identify, address and capitalize on the opportunities ahead.

Our innovation panel experts at this week’s convention provide a perfect illustration of how B.C.’s high-tech pioneers are applying their knowledge and vision to transform and modernize B.C.’s forest industry. From cloud-based systems that help mills run more efficiently and high-resolution geospatial data to survey and analyze forestry roads, timber stands and log yards, to 3D technology and cognitive computing to analyze trucking and address transportation, one of the highest costs faced by the forest sector — technology is transforming our industry and helping us to meet the challenges we face.

It will also take creativity and persistence to secure a new trade agreement on softwood lumber, one of the biggest challenges for the B.C. industry. With about half of our lumber exports destined for the U.S., we must secure reliable access to this important market.

The provincial and federal governments have done their utmost to ensure softwood remains a top trade priority and have worked hard to set the stage for a new agreement. The B.C. industry will continue to support these efforts and Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s lead international trade negotiator, and David Emerson, B.C.’s Trade Envoy to the U.S., will provide their insights and perspectives on this issue at the convention.

B.C.’s forest-products industry has a proud history and a bright future. This week’s COFI convention provides an important forum to share ideas and engage in frank discussions. By continuing to harness the collective talent, creativity and competitive drive our province has to offer, the forest industry will remain an enduring cornerstone of the economy as it adapts, evolves and innovates to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Susan Yurkovich is president and CEO of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries.