Reflecting on the past year at the Center reminds me that we are evolving almost daily! I'm proud of the nimble, business-like approach we’re taking to address persistent issues across the 26-million-acre Northern Forest region of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Over the past 20 years, we’ve invested in regional collaboration and advocacy, and in new ways to enhance core elements of today’s forest economy—tourism development, automated wood heat, and wood products manufacturing. We are always looking at the environment, seeking to understand how it’s changing; we work to adapt our programming to serve Northern Forest communities and our mission.
Building on our existing work, two specific examples of our evolution include:
Strengthening demand for local-sourced wood in commercial construction
We’re increasing the use of locally-sourced wood in commercial construction by working with sawmills, modular home manufacturers such as Vermod and KBS Builders, and manufacturers of “mass timber” designed for multi-story commercial construction. Improvements to these businesses impact hundreds of jobs and millions of board feet of wood. We want to cultivate a culture of research, development AND commercialization necessary for economic resilience.
Putting communities at the center and adding new expertise
We have increased our focus within specific locations, which enables us to deliver multiple program services in focal towns and to leverage new types of work such as high-speed internet and real estate development to assist communities seeking to become more prosperous and resilient. For example, in the Maine West region (Rumford, Bethel, South Paris and Norway) we helped to secure an internet planning proposal on behalf of 27 towns that will guide long-term build out. And in Millinocket, Maine, the Center launched a new housing initiative to meet the emerging demand for housing by entrepreneurs and others who want to be part of the town’s renaissance.
If not for the Center’s capacity and leadership, neither of these initiatives would be underway.
And as you know, the Northern Forest region is not a monolith. While many communities across the region are in decline, losing population and commerce, that’s not the only reality. We’re delighted to be working directly with communities that are trying new ways to improve their long-term viability. We see other towns doing the same and wherever possible we make connections so each community can gain from the others’ experiences.
Many towns rich in natural amenities are investing in new local infrastructure and commercial enhancements—high speed internet, mountain bike trails, downtown revitalization, quality housing, brew pubs, coffee shops and more—and new residents are diving in. We’re seeing this in Millinocket, Greenville, and Norway, Maine; Gorham and Lancaster, New Hampshire; Burke and Hardwick, Vermont; and Saranac Lake and Keeseville, New York.
These communities are diversifying within and outside the forest economy and seeking ways to attract entrepreneurial people and families. We meet new people that have moved to the Northern Forest because they saw compelling opportunities to recreate, start a business and be active community members. We know these communities have resources that many people are seeking—quality of life, quality schools, affordable real estate, small towns, and more. The Center’s strong track record of getting things done positions us well as a partner for businesses and communities seeking to attract and retain this target audience.
The overall regional context changes and we adapt right along with it, while also delivering tangible projects and services. We bring our full set of core competencies—collaborative leadership, new ideas, program delivery, investment and public policy expertise—to the task of rebuilding the region’s economy and revitalizing its communities. We work to secure a region where people and woodlands thrive together; where communities are known for their economic opportunity and high quality of life; and a region known for innovation and stewardship.