Feds pump $275,000 into northern Maine heating appliance manufacturing program

Posted Sept. 26, 2013, at 4:18 p.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — The Northern Maine Development Commission is the only organization in Maine to receive funding in the first round of grants awarded through the federal government’s “Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. The money will be used to promote manufacturing in northern Maine.

The partnership is an initiative of President Barack Obama’s administration to accelerate the resurgence of manufacturing in the United States. The first round of funding totals $7 million and went to 44 organizations.

NMDC will receive $275,000 to help implement what it’s calling the Biomass Clean Tech Manufacturing Cluster Strategic Plan, which will advance the design and manufacture of biomass heating appliances in northern Maine. The biomass sector is one that NMDC has focused on as a result of the Mobilize Maine effort, which is an asset-based economic development strategy that encourages regions to pursue development initiatives that build on an area’s existing assets.

“The IMCP is a program that challenges communities around the country to coordinate their resources for strategies on economic development,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said in a statement. “These planning grants and investments provide an opportunity for communities to design plans that help revitalize American manufacturing, attract investment, and strengthen our economy.”

NMDC’s biomass strategic plan has two tracks, according to Mike Eisensmith, NMDC’s director of regional planning. But the goal is the same: “The end result is we are hoping to have heating appliance manufacturing in northern Maine,” he said.

The first track aims to bring regional stakeholders to the table to discuss how to develop a homegrown manufacturer of biomass heating appliances.

“We are aware of several individuals and businesses that are already doing parts of work that would lend itself to the manufacturing of a boiler,” Eisensmith told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday. “We know of folks who do boiler design, dryer design. We also know of folks in the area that do high-end metal fabrication, and so it’s those kinds of people we would be bringing to the table, much as we’ve done with other Mobilize Maine stuff, and say, ‘How could this be done?’”

The second track would be to develop a strategy to attract a European manufacturer of biomass heating appliances to northern Maine. Eisensmith estimates that this track, because of the need for outside expertise, will probably claim 60 percent to 70 percent of the $275,000 in grant funds.

Winners of the first round will be invited to apply for a more competitive second round of funding. According to the initial program announcement, Eisensmith said between six and nine of the original 44 organizations will each receive up to $25 million to implement the strategic plan developed with funds from the first round. That $25 million figure, however, is not set in stone, he said.

“The way it appears to us, and the reason we’re so interested, is it appears that this program was going to use the first round to come up with the project that the second round would actually fund,” Eisensmith said.

Eisensmith said he’s not aware of a deadline for applying for the second round, but a press release from the U.S. Department of Commerce said the second-round funds will be awarded in the spring of 2014.

“This is a new program. This is something that came out of the administration’s office. It was something highlighted in [Obama’s] State of the Union address,” Eisensmith said. “We don’t know at this point when that second round is going to take place and don’t know what the funding levels might be for it.”

Gov. Paul LePage said in a statement that Maine’s commitment to domestic manufacturing would pay off with more jobs in the future.

“By refocusing government resources, we can partner with communities and work better to strengthen the economy and create new jobs. Simply put, business investment means jobs for Mainers,” said LePage, who met with Pritzker in August when he attended the U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Florida, in a statement.

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