June 20, 2018
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Montana firm eyes $22 million Maine expansion for high-tech timber

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Updated:

The nation’s first manufacturer of cross-laminated timber plans to set up shop in Maine, with a goal of creating 100 jobs at a $22 million mill, officials said Friday.

SmartLam, LLC of Montana still seeks a mill site, but has committed to building a factory in Maine within 18 months. Founded in 2012, the company produces more than 1 million board feet of the engineered wood product per month and employs 40 people in Montana’s Flathead Valley, SmartLam President Casey Malmquist said.

“It is down to two sites right now,” Malmquist said in a telephone interview on Friday. “I’m just waiting to get further feedback on both of those sites and then we will be making our decision.”

“I don’t want to disclose them because I don’t want to influence the deal,” he added. “I think if they can kind of come up organically on their own rather than be influenced by one another it would be a more straightforward deal.”

SmartLam is the second maker of cross-laminated timber, a composite wood strong enough to replace steel and concrete in some types of high-rise buildings, to announce Maine expansion plans this week.

LignaTerra Global LLC of Charlotte, North Carolina announced plans at Husson University on Tuesday to build a $30 million, 300,000-square-foot factory to produce CLT in Millinocket. The company hopes to break ground in July and start production in 12 months with more than 100 workers.

[Latest bid to revive shuttered Katahdin mill promises 100 jobs]

Gov. Paul LePage made unnamed reference to SmartLam in his State of the State address earlier this week and tweeted a specific mention of the company on Thursday.

“Great news for our forest products industry #mepolitics,” LePage said.

The state-funded Maine Technology Institute awarded SmartLam a $3 million grant to help it launch its second factory, said Brian Whitney, president of MTI. The grant was announced Thursday.

“I think they are bullish on Maine and having access to the Northeast markets,” Whitney said Friday of SmartLam. “I think we are incredibly fortunate to have two companies looking to make these investments right now.”

SmartLam workers will likely earn wages enough to support families, said Ashley Pringle, vice president of operations at Maine & Company, a nonprofit business development agency that helped bring SmartLam to Maine.

Its workers will need skills that include quality control, engineering, 3D modeling, computer-aided programming, design-, and manufacturing. The company will also hire salespeople and administrative staff, Pringle said.

[How the Bangor region could manufacture a new type of timber to replace steel and cement]

SmartLam has a four-year relationship with the University of Maine that will help it find new applications of CLT and develop a workforce capable of using it, Malmquist said.

“We are seeing considerable demand for CLT on the East Coast as architects, builders and developers seek durable, sustainable building materials,” Malmquist said in a statement released on Friday.

The Maine facility will give SmartLam “the perfect vantage point to supply customers,” Malmquist said — less environmental impact and lower shipping costs.

Proponents say that CLT is cheaper to buy, easier to build with and leaves a smaller carbon footprint than steel and concrete. Its factories aren’t expected to create as many jobs as did paper mills, but it could absorb a great deal of the softwoods Maine’s mills used to create pulp.

Former mill sites in Bucksport, East Millinocket, Lincoln, Millinocket and Old Town are among those possibly vying for SmartLam. Maine sawmills will supply wood to LignaTerra and SmartLam.

LignaTerra said it chose the Millinocket site, home to Great Northern Paper Co. for more than a century, because it had excellent access to hydroelectric dams on the Penobscot River and rail access to Boston and Canada. It adjoins the Golden Road, the longest private road in the U.S., which is used primary by logging crews between Millinocket and New Brunswick.

SmartLam’s decision to expand comes four months after it announced plans to open a new headquarters in its Montana hometown, Columbia Falls.

It hopes to announce its Maine location in two months, Pringle said.

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