AUGUSTA, Maine — A coalition of leaders from the forest products industry, communities affected by mill closures, and the education and economic development sectors has released its recommendations on how best to move Maine’s forest economy forward. The Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative’sRecommendations Report (summary attached) lists nine priorities to be addressed in the next three years. The top priority is to develop a long-term vision and roadmap for the forest economy. The plan will identify the key opportunities and challenges that must be overcome to attract capital investment, develop greater prosperity in the forest products sector, and sustain good paying jobs in Maine’s rural communities. This includes identifying the current and emerging global forest products markets where Maine is likely to be most competitive and analyzing Maine’s current and future wood supply in order to support new and future markets.
Other recommendations include improving Maine’s transportation infrastructure to move wood to market, developing more outlets for forest residuals such as through Combined Heat and Power (CHP) projects, increasing outreach to small woodland owners, and investing in the commercialization of new products such as bio-based products. For affected communities, priorities include the redevelopment of closed mill sites, and diversifying and strengthening Maine’s rural economy.
The forest products industry has a long and proud heritage in Maine and remains a significant economic driver in the state’s economy. In 2016, the total economic impact of the forest products industry is still estimated at $8.5 billion and 33,538 total jobs. At the same time, rapid marketplace changes have led to the recent closure of six pulp and paper mills, two biomass electric facilities, and related declines in forest manufacturing and harvesting.
“A dedicated and diverse group of Mainers has spent months working together to understand where Maine’s forest economy has been, where it is today, and what needs to be done to strengthen and diversify our valued forest products industry,” said Patrick Strauch, Executive Director of the Maine Forest Products Council and co-chair of the working group. “We’re pleased with the results of that collaboration and feel that accomplishing these nine priorities over the next three years will help to sustain and transform the forest economy.”
Currently, the coalition is in the process of identifying resources and creating plans for completion of all nine priorities:
A. Conduct a global market assessment to assess future demand for Maine wood products.
B. Conduct a statewide wood supply analysis to attract new markets.
C. Conduct a transportation analysis to determine where infrastructure improvements are necessary to increase efficiencies and lower costs for the forest products value chain.
D. Support and grow markets for low‐value, underutilized wood and support biomass energy wood opportunities with: Combined Heat and Power (CHP) biomass plants, micro‐grids, and modern thermal systems.
E. Invest in the research, development, and commercialization of emerging wood technologies - such as forest bioproducts - as an opportunity for the utilization of
low value fiber.
F. Support small landowners who want to grow and harvest more wood.
G. Invest in logger and forest products workforce development.
H. Redevelop and reutilize or repurpose Maine’s closed mill industrial sites.
I. Diversify and strengthen Maine’s rural economy:
• support small businesses,
• invest in community infrastructure,
• expand broadband, and
• support rural tourism development.
The group has already begun working to advance the priorities and searching for funding opportunities to build the plan, according to Yellow Light Breen, President and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation and co-chair of the working group. “We are excited to take the next crucial steps to position Maine as an innovator and leader in the global wood market, and in the process create new jobs and revive our rural communities,” said Breen. Breen noted that the Maine Development Foundation has brought its trusted research and ability to convene diverse leaders to the project to help coordinate the work.
The coalition’s work also included hosting a three-day visit to Maine last summer by a federal Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT). Breen and Strauch indicated they expect any federal report to incorporate and respond to the coalition’s nine priorities, and to begin to identify resources both immediate and long term to move the work forward. Industry and state resources will also be critical to success.
The Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative members are:
Patrick Strauch, Maine Forest Products Council, Co-Chair
Yellow Light Breen, Maine Development Foundation, Co-Chair
Donna Cassese, Maine Pulp & Paper Association / SAPPI Fine Papers
Tom Doak, Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine
Dana Doran, Professional Logging Contractors (PLC) of Maine
Steve Schley, Pingree Associates
Charlotte Mace, Biobased Maine
Stephen Shaler, University of Maine
Jake Ward, University of Maine
Peggy Daigle, Consultant
Andy Hamilton, Eaton Peabody Attorneys at Law
Charlie Spies, CEI Capital Management
About the Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative: Formed in 2016, The Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative is a collaborative effort by forest product industry and community stakeholders to reinvigorate Mane’s forest economy and ensure that Maine’s rural communities prosper. The forest products industry has a long and proud heritage in Maine, and remains a significant economic driver in the state’s economy. At the same time, rapid marketplace changes have led to the closure of six pulp and paper mills in recent years, with profound impacts on Maine’s rural communities. As global markets shift, new ideas and strategies are needed to keep Maine’s forest economy strong and ensure the state’s rural communities prosper. The Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative is supported by the Maine Development Foundation, through a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.