By: Maura Adams
The Magic City – the City that Trees Built – Lumber Capital of the World. These historic slogans from the region’s prominent mill towns declared their strength and connection to the forests that fed them. They took pride in being the biggest and best at what they did. We know time has brought myriad changes, but we believe the region’s communities can look to the future with hope of being strong again and celebrating their forest roots.
For over 20 years now, the Center has delivered programs to address broad, regionally-based forest economy issues. Recently we added another, very localized approach to our work: exploring ways for towns to capitalize on their forest assets to become energetic and lively—that is, vital—again.
We are especially interested in addressing a fundamental demographic challenge: the steady loss of young people, especially those between 25- to 45-years old, whose children will bring schools to life, new businesses, care for the elderly, participate in civic leadership, and more. We believe that to retain and attract this demographic for the region, we must pay attention to the conditions they need to satisfy their personal, familial and professional needs. These include affordable access to broadband, good schools and hospitals, social opportunities, outdoor recreation, and quality housing.
Over the past year, our foray into community revitalization has led us to three focal communities where we’re learning by testing different approaches. In each location, we’re partnering with local businesses and non-profits, gaining from their local knowledge and relationships, while providing our staff’s combined skills and experience in community development, the forest economy, and other projects across the region.
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.
By: Maura Adams
Peter Bourne stood at a lectern in Burlington recently, renewable energy leadership award in hand, and smiled. “I’m pretty sure this is the first time people at a climate change conference ever clapped for the owner of a fossil fuel company,” he said, and the crowd clapped even more, laughing in a moment of rare affinity with someone whose bread and butter is, after all, oil and propane sales.
But Bourne’s Energy – along with Sandri in Massachusetts, Ehrhart and Vincent’s in New York, and Daigle Oil in Maine, among others – is also helping create a cleaner energy future by expanding into bulk wood pellet delivery and boiler installation. Switching from fossil fuels to wood pellets for heat cuts carbon emissions by over 50%, according to a 2016 study commissioned by the Northern Forest Center (https://northernforest.org/programs/modern-wood-heat/wood-pellet-greenhouse-gas-emissions-study). Companies like these are making significant investments in this sector, because they recognize both the environmental benefits and economic opportunity associated with local, renewable heat.
by: Jessica O'Hare
The Maine Woods Tourism Training Initiative is a project of the Northern Forest Center and the Maine Woods Consortium, in partnership with seven economic development organizations. Its focus is strengthening tourism businesses across 12 million acres of forestland and forest communities in seven counties of the Maine Woods.
The recent conclusion of a USDA Rural Development grant that supported the project prompted us to reflect on the Initiative’s impact and what we’ve learned over the past three years:
- 49 trainings
- 717 Employees Trained
- 295 Tourism Businesses
- 454 Total Businesses
The project took it one step further than training alone. To help businesses act on the ideas the trainings offered, we provided small grants to help them take on strategic projects with the help of an outside consultant. See a map of all grantees. Together, we delivered:
- 38 small grants to businesses, totaling $44,280
- $66,480 in private investment leveraged
- Assistance to 51 business owners
- Strengthening jobs for 113 full time employees and 133 part-time or seasonal employees