Joseph Howard

CEO / Grant Writer

Joe Howard founded the West Virginia Forest Products Cooperative with the desire to empower the community and region by providing education and jobs. His background in electrical and civil engineering paved the way for the renewal of a family tradition in woodworking and the future of WV hardwoods. 

Joe Howard, executive director of the West Virginia Forest Product Center, is seated in a black desk chair.
Illustration: Green branch with green buds

West Virginia Forest Products Center started as a likeness to a tree sapling, with roots that go back through generations of family traditions and values. As a concept many years in the making, the Center’s inception was a culmination of life experiences, education, and entrepreneurial inventiveness. The heartwood of the Center's mission is to foster a collaborative environment for regional-based woodworking education and to empower the community by creating local economic opportunities. The Center was formally opened in 2018 after Joseph Howard, the CEO, was the recipient of an Appalachian Regional Commission grant. He and his wife, Vickie, endeavored to create jobs in their community and saw an opportunity with Appalachian hardwood. Over 85% of West Virginia's logging industry produces hardwoods, and over half of that rough stock lumber is shipped overseas. Joe was determined to reroute the destination of West Virginia hardwood by creating a market for value-added wood products in the region. He founded the non-profit to emphasize the importance of Appalachian hardwoods while cultivating new jobs and opportunities for both seasoned and aspiring woodworkers. 

Joe is originally from Greenup, Kentucky, which is 45 miles downstream from Huntington along the Ohio River. His grandfather, Granville “G.V.” Joseph, owned a sawmill in Eastern Kentucky. Joe remembers playing with his siblings in the mill, jumping into sawdust piles, and watching the mules haul lumber. His grandfather lived to be 104 years old. Joe's father, Henry Howard, was also a wood product craftsman. He made carvings and ornaments, many of which they still have in the family. Henry’s specialty was Appalachian slingshots, and maple was his stock wood of choice.

As a young man, Joe attended the University of Kentucky and earned a bachelor's in Electrical Engineering. Joe found his passion for design serendipitously while working on the North Bend Rail Trail Board of Trustees in Parkersburg, West Virginia. One of the trails needed a bridge, and he was tasked to develop a design. Joe designed a covered bridge, to continue the east coast tradition. During this project, he realized that did not have the skills to analyze the bridge structurally. He decided to further his education in timber structures by studying Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, where he earned his masters degree. Joe enjoyed teaching as a graduate student at VT, and has further pursued education as an assistant professor at Ohio University and West Virginia University Institute of Technology. Beyond teaching, he also owned a timber frame business based out of Radford, Virginia. 

Joe initially met his wife, Vickie, in first grade in 1962. They reunited at a high school reunion, and got married in 2014. They decided to move to Fayetteville, WV, to be closer to family. Joe quickly became involved in the community, and coordinated a grant writing group that met at the local Cathedral Cafe. The group learned to write grant proposals and would meet to discuss the nuances of the daunting task. Several members were successful in their requests, including Joe, who was then able to begin the upward climb for his vision to create the West Virginia Forest Products Center that would provide the infrastructure to facilitate education and sustainable jobs. Since its inception, Joe has been watching his vision of WVFPC unfold as it moves towards becoming a sustainable company and learning environment full of eager young designers and craftsmen.

"I am looking forward to the day I can see people growing into their creativity. I want to see people excited to work together to create and invent the unimaginable."

He says his goal is to work himself out of a job. He wants to lay down the groundwork for future generations to continue the mission. 

"Our vision for this place is to have people want to come in and share their knowledge and have a passion for this. Encouraging people to work and be creative."