A forest study released today identified an economic development opportunity in rural New England.
The federally-funded study concluded that a market exists to support production in southern New England of cross laminated timber – an engineered wood product that the study said is an environmentally friendlier and cost-effective alternative to steel and concrete in the construction of buildings.
The New England Forestry Foundation study, conducted with a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service, said if use of the building technology grew by just 1 percent in Massachusetts it would support one or two new engineered wood products mills and one or two existing sawmills in southern New England.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s top economic official, Jay Ash, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, said the administration is committed to implementing the results of the study.
"The opportunity to create a new marketplace for an emerging building material is a very exciting one for Gov. Baker and myself," said Ash.
The study did not draw any conclusion about how many jobs might be created to support production of cross laminated timber.
" We have a lot of work to do to explore items the study raised but did not complete," said Ash.
He said he would search for potential developers of an engineered wood products mill and offer incentives, if necessary, to build it in western Massachusetts.
" We will work with the private sector to see if we can site a facility to produce cross laminated timber," Ash said in an interview.
He said the state is still pursuing development of a factory to produce wood stove pellets, which was identified in an earlier study as an economic development opportunity for the state’s struggling rural areas.
Cross laminated timber is made from dried layers of lumber, stacked in alternating direction at 90 degree angles, glued and pressed to form a solid block. It has been used to construct buildings in Canada, Europe, Australia, and the Pacific Northwest.
" I am convinced it can be used here in Massachusetts and will become more important as a building material going forward in the United States," said Ash
Robert Perschel, executive director of the New England Forestry Foundation, said it is another chance for Massachusetts to be a leader in rolling out new technology.
" We don't want to wait decades for this," said Perschel. " We can get all these wonderful benefits and impacts if we can move now."
The study said Massachusetts has an abundant supply of hemlock, which currently has a low commercial value and is suitable to produce cross laminated timber.
A separate study from Harvard Forest found that only 2 percent of the wood used in Massachusetts currently is produced in the state.
The results of the study were announced at the new Design Building at UMass Amherst. It was built using cross laminated timber produced in Canada. At 87,000 square feet it is the largest modern wood building east of the Rocky Mountains.