PASSADUMKEAG, Maine — With newly announced federal funding, a coalition of leaders from the forest products industry, communities affected by mill closures, and the education and economic development sectors is ready to begin implementing strategies to strengthen and diversify Maine’s valued forest economy. Members of the Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative gathered today as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine shared the federal Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT) recommendations for Maine’s forest economy. Erskine also announced federal grants aimed at addressing critical needs, including $1 million to develop a long-term vision and strategic plan.
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.
“Having the federal resources available to support the strategic plan is welcomed and appreciated. Members of the Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative identified this roadmap as the crucial first step in positioning Maine as a global leader in the forest products industry. The strategic plan will identify the most promising new markets for wood products and analyze Maine’s wood supply to understand how to meet those new demands,” said Patrick Strauch, Executive Director of the Maine Forest Products Council and co-chair of the coalition. “Ultimately, the strategic plan will be used to attract investors, develop greater prosperity in the forest products sector, and sustain good-paying jobs in Maine’s rural communities.”
The EDAT report also includes committed resources and immediate “next steps” to implement the eight strategies, which incorporated and responded to the priorities recently identified by the Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative.
“The EDAT spent three days in Maine last summer to gain a deeper understanding of issues facing the region through a series of site visits, community meetings, and briefings by community and forest industry leaders. The federal team saw firsthand how the state has been impacted by the recent industry challenges and also witnessed how the industry and many communities have come together to identify priorities for economic development,” said Matt Erskine, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “The EDAT and its federal partner agencies are supporting those new ideas by identifying potential resources and programs and providing some funding so these strategies can begin to be implemented. We will continue to work with local stakeholders on these strategies in the upcoming months and years.”
Included in the “next steps” is a commitment for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a world leader in composite materials manufacturing, to collaborate with the University of Maine on the development of biobased materials. ORNL and the U.S. Department of Energy will also provide technical expertise to Maine’s biomass sector around new opportunities in Combined Heat and Power (CHP). Other next steps address mill site redevelopment, broadband access for communities affected by mill closures, support for small businesses, and training programs for high school students interested working in the logging industry. Federal grants are also being awarded to Eastern Maine Development Corporation ($200,000 for redevelopment of the Bucksport mill site) and the Maine International Trade Center ($145,000 to assist small businesses that export products) to support the next steps.
“As paper and pulp mills have closed in recent years, many communities in Maine that relied on the mills as a source of jobs and revenue are struggling to retain residents and keep businesses open. Investing resources into initiatives like redeveloping closed mill sites and expanding broadband access will help these communities diversify their economies,” said Peggy Daigle, a former town manager of several communities including Old Town, Lincoln and Millinocket, and member of the Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative.
Last summer’s EDAT visit was requested by Senator Susan Collins and Senator Angus King, with support from Representative Bruce Poliquin and Representative Chellie Pingree, in response to concerns from the forest industry and impacted communities. Learning of the release of the EDAT report, Senators Collins and King and Representatives Poliquin and Pingree said in a joint statement, “Maine’s forest products industry is an integral part of our state’s heritage, and, as this report demonstrates, it will be essential to our state’s economic future. That’s why we wholeheartedly commend the hardworking men and women of Maine’s forest industry and the Economic Development Assessment Team who have collaborated day in and day out over the course of the past several months to arrive at this critical point. It is our hope that the recommendations outlined in this report, combined with federal funding and additional commitments from several agencies, will provide a beneficial strategic roadmap that will drive economic growth in our forest economy and lead to the creation of stable, good-paying jobs for people in rural communities across Maine. We look forward to working with Maine’s forest industry to implement the vision of this report, and we pledge to continue to do all that we can to support this vital part of our economy.”
“Despite the challenges faced by the forest products industry, we have enormous assets to build on going forward. Developing and pursuing an effective growth plan will require partnerships among federal, state, and industry resources. By working together, we can sustain and reinvent Maine’s forest products industry and increase its benefits to communities across the state,” said Yellow Light Breen, President and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation and co-chair of the coalition.
EDAT report recommendations for Maine’s forest economy:
STRATEGY 1: Develop an industry-wide strategic plan to assess future demand for wood products and Maine’s wood supply now and in the future
STRATEGY 2: Conduct a transportation analysis to determine where infrastructure investments are necessary to improve transportation efficiencies
STRATEGY 3: Invest in the development and commercialization of new forest products
STRATEGY 4: Support the development of markets for forest product residuals
STRATEGY 5: Identify training needs and prepare the workforce to meet changing requirements
STRATEGY 6: Support the redevelopment of vacant mill sites
STRATEGY 7: Support vibrant Maine communities where people want to live, work and visit
STRATEGY 8: Invest in long-term community infrastructure for the future
Full EDAT report available at: https://www.eda.gov/pdf/201701-Maine-EDAT-final-report.pdf
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, SAPPI North America
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, Former Town Manager/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.