After a dark decade, secondary wood manufacturing rebounds to contribute $1.8 billion to Maine’s economy

Colorful wooden eggs made by Wells Wood Turning in Buckfield have been featured at the White House Easter Egg roll since 2006.

Secondary wood manufacturing once played an enormous role in Maine’s rural economy, with mills in many towns across the state. Then from roughly 1998 to 2008, a flood of imports put many mills out of business. In 2003 alone about a dozen closed.  The survivors, however, learned lessons about how to survive in global markets and their industry is now growing again.

Secondary wood manufacturing, also known as value-added wood manufacturing, is generally defined as continued manufacturing beyond the production of lumber.

“Maine has the strongest secondary manufacturing of all the Northern New England states by far,” said Dave Redmond, director of Wood Products Initiatives at the Northern Forest Center. “Several wood products busi­nesses during the recession went out of business, but the remaining businesses were stronger and were able to pick up the pieces and move forward.”

At the request of the Maine Forest Products Council (MFPC), Dr. Mindy Crandall and doctoral candidate James Anderson III studied the economic impact of secondary wood manufacturing in Maine in 2014, comparing it to similar Michigan research, which was released in 2016.

They found the total impact was 8,884 jobs and $1.8 billion in 2014, about 20 percent of the forest products industry’s $10.2 billion 2014 impact. “Those jobs can make a big difference for specific communities,” Crandall said.

MFPC’s report, Secondary Wood Manufacturing in Maine: An ‘almost invisible’ $1.8 billion industry, includes Dr. Crandall’s findings, interviews with Maine’s secondary wood manufacturers and long-time industry observers, and a partial directory of wood processors throughout the state. The report, which also includes a partial directory of wood processors across the state, was presented at the Council’s 57th Annual Meeting at the Samoset Report in Rockland.

“Maine’s secondary wood processors are a great example of the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit in our industry,” said MFPC Executive Director Patrick Strauch. “They are constantly researching and adapting their products to fit into the global markets. Despite the challenges in our industry, we are also finding opportunities.”