Program seeking to spur industry

Innovation hub hopes to bring jobs

PORT ANGELES — A program to boost the forest products industry in Clallam and Jefferson counties is moving ahead, with hopes of attracting new businesses and creating new jobs.

Last year, the Clallam County Economic Development Council received $50,000 from the state Department of Commerce to set up its Natural Resources Innovation Center (NRIC), with the hopes of boosting a local forest products industry.

Now the EDC is getting ready to stand up NRIC as a nonprofit organization to serve as a hub for forest product businesses to connect with other companies, find funding opportunities and access economic and feasibility studies. The group — which is currently just a subcommittee at the EDC — will be industry-led, EDC Executive Director Colleen McAleer said, and work to find projects that are collectively beneficial for the industry.

“It’ll be much more successful if (industry leaders) are the ones that say, ‘This is what we need to do. This is how we need to be investing our money. This is how any investments would help my particular business,’” McAleer said.

Many forest products businesses in the area are small businesses that may not be able to afford or conduct things like feasibility studies on their own but may be willing to contribute to a portion of a project in collaboration with other partners.

NRIC already has received funding from state and federal sources to get started, but backers are hoping the two counties of the North Olympic Peninsula, Clallam and Jefferson, will be awarded $50 million through a federal pilot program meant to help economically distressed areas.

In December, the North Olympic Peninsula Recompete Coalition — a group made up of North Olympic Peninsula counties, cities, tribes and others — was named as a finalist for Phase 2 of the Distressed Area Recompete Pilot Program, a new federal program that could bring up to $50 million to the peninsula.

Not all of that money would be spent on NRIC, but $2.4 million would be, and tens of millions would be spent on other projects such as infrastructure and job training that will help the forest products industry.

If awarded the Phase 2 grant, the coalition would have about $20 million to put toward creating jobs.

“It would be infrastructure or equipment or programs that would be owned by a government entity that, by investing in that project, that would enable private industry to create more jobs,” McAleer said.

She gave the example of Port Angeles-based Composite Recycling Technology Center wanting to purchase a thermal modification unit, which would allow the company to create additional products and expand to new markets.

“If CRTC receives funding for that, it would actually be owned by the Port of Port Angeles, leased to CRTC, and then they can do a lot more, hire new people, with that,” McAleer said.

The main objective of the Recompete Program is to get working-aged people back into the workforce with well-paying jobs, and McAleer said the forest products industry can provide living-wage jobs to people without four-year degrees.

The application for Phase 2 of the Recompete Program is due April 25 and the coalition is still working on its final proposals. McAleer said the group is working with businesses that may be interested in moving onto the Peninsula.

McAleer added the coalition is in talks with a company that makes natural plastic alternatives and is interested in expanding to Forks.

There are 22 finalists for Phase 2 of the Recompete Program, including the Peninsula’s coalition, and between six and eight will be selected to receive between $20 million and $50 million.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsulanews.us.

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