ASHLAND, Maine — A company from Georgia is setting up shop at the former Levesque sawmill in Ashland and will hire nearly 80 people to manufacture cedar shingles.

For the past two years Ecoshel has been in “beta production” of a patented cedar shingle system in Gainesville, Ga., according to Bryan Kirkey, Ecoshel’s CEO. It’s moving its headquarters to Levesque Mill Road, where Fraser Papers closed its sawmill in early 2008, laying off about 70 people.

The company is moving to Ashland to be close to raw materials, an available workforce and the market for cedar shingles, which is predominantly in New England, according to Kirkey.

Ecoshel’s initial plan is to have one production line, which would employ 78 people if all three shifts were staffed, Kirkey said. If the business grows and can capture 10 percent of the cedar shingle market, which Kirkey believes it can, additional production lines would be added. Kirkey believes the business eventually could employ as many as 300 or 400.

Kirkey estimates it will cost $3 million to get the business up and running. He expects hiring to begin in late July or early August and for production to begin on Sept. 1.

Kirkey reached out to Maine officials about seven months ago to explore the feasibility of moving the business to the state, according to Rosaire Pelletier, senior forest products adviser at the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

In a prepared statement, Kirkey praised the governor’s office and the DECD for their responsiveness.

“I’m very thankful for how hard they have worked to make this possible and for all of the well-run, well-designed programs, such as MTI [the Maine Technology Institute], MRDA [Maine Rural Development Authority], FAME [Finance Authority of Maine] and the Community Development Block Grant Program,” Kirkey said. “These are exactly the type of programs that businesses need to grow and create jobs, especially in this economy.”

Kirkey has moved his family to Maine and will begin building out the space at the Ashland sawmill. Kirkey also will open a small sales office in Portland.

Kirkey has been approved for a loan from the Maine Rural Development Authority and has received a $250,000 development loan from the Maine Technology Institute. There will also be the possibilities for assistance from the Finance Authority of Maine and for Ashland to apply for a Community Development Block Grant on Kirkey’s behalf.

Besides sourcing white cedar from Maine suppliers, Kirkey said he will also import red cedar from British Columbia.

“This is a real win-win story,” Pelletier said. “Not only is [Kirkey] going to be in an area that needs employment, but he’ll also be bringing raw material here, red cedar from British Columbia. That’s pretty unique for northern Maine — to be able to import the raw materials and create a high-value, quality product.”

Gov. Paul LePage’s office used the opportunity to promote his pro-business credentials.

“My administration has been focused on providing an ‘open for business’ attitude across state government since day one,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “When government acts to connect businesses with the resources they need, to find ways to eliminate red tape and to streamline processes, companies such as Ecoshel are able to focus on what you do best: create jobs.”

Whit Richardson

Whit Richardson is Business Editor at the Bangor Daily News. He blogs about Maine business, entrepreneurs and the economy.