A Montana company has not followed through on its plans to build a $22 million factory in Maine that would produce a composite wood building material and create 100 jobs.
In February 2018, SmartLam North America, announced that it was committed to building a factory in Maine within 18 months and had narrowed down its search for a site to two locations that it did not specify. At the time, the state-funded Maine Technology Institute also announced that it had awarded a $3 million grant to help the company launch its factory.
But in June, SmartLam informed the Maine Technology Institute that it could not go forward with the project as planned and was surrendering the grant funding, according to Brian Whitney, the institute’s president. The $3 million grant was not disbursed, and the institute now plans to seek new proposals for the funds in late 2019 or early 2020.
“If SmartLam determines they are prepared to move forward with a project in Maine, they will be eligible to apply for those funds,” Whitney said.
Whitney referred questions about why SmartLam’s project has not gone forward to the company’s president, Casey Malmquist. Malmquist did not respond to an email or voicemail seeking comment.
Founded in 2012, the Montana company was the first U.S. manufacturer of cross-laminated timber, an alternative to conventional building materials such as steel, concrete and stone. Cross-laminated timber is made up of planks of lumber that are stacked in perpendicular layers, as in a Jenga game, then bonded together. The strength of the material allows builders to construct taller buildings than they normally would be able to entirely with wood.
Now, another cross-laminated timber manufacturer, LignaTerra Global LLC of North Carolina, is on pace to build the first such factory in Maine. After originally saying it would open a factory in Millinocket, it withdrew those plans late last year and recently announced that it would open the $31 million facility at the former Lincoln Paper and Tissue mill site. It estimated that it would take at least a year to build the factory and train workers.
At the time SmartLam announced its Maine project last year, Malmquist said that it had entered into a four-year relationship with the University of Maine to help it find new applications for the timber composite and develop a workforce capable of using it.
Stephen Shaler, director of the University’s School of Forest Resources, said this week that he does not have any information about SmartLam’s plans.
Outside of Maine, SmartLam has acquired a production facility in Alabama and aims to open three more locations by 2022, targeting the Northeast, Southeast and West Coast, according to an Oct. 1 press release on its website.
Malmquist also made the news in 2018 for another reason. In a separate business deal not related to SmartLam, he and Ryan Zinke, former secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, were both involved in a land development in Whitefish, Montana, that was scrutinized by the agency’s inspector general.