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Leaders: Rural Oregon needs special help

Laminated-wood products could help economy recover


Photo Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF ROXANNE WARD - Bridgeport House in London is made out of cross-laminated timber, a potential wood product for Oregon discussed at the Oregon Leadership Summit. Although not every potential worker in the Portland region is fully employed, the metropolitan-area economy is doing much better than the rest of the state.

So much better, in fact, that high-level state action is require to help the rural parts of Oregon.

That was one of the themes of the Business Leadership Summit held last Tuesday at the Oregon Convention Center. Hundreds of business and government leaders attended to discuss an agenda for the 2015 Oregon Legislature. Called the Oregon Business Plan, it is intended to continue the economic recovery by creating more good-paying jobs and reducing poverty. Although the state has now recouped all of the jobs lost during the Great Recession, incomes still lag behind the national average.

“We need to have a serious conversation about the inherent contradiction in our economic recovery that is creating jobs but still leaving hundreds of thousands of Oregonians behind,” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said during his keynote speech.

Some ideas for the Portland area were included in the plan, like funding transportation projects to help speed the shipment of goods through the Port of Portland. But many of the proposals were focused on those parts of the state where unemployment is still at recessionary levels — such as Crook, Curry, Grant and Harney counties, where more than 10 percent of the work force is unemployed, compared to 6.1 percent in the Portland region.

The need to overcome the urban/rural split was repeatedly made by the most prominent speakers at the summit. The rural parts of the state are still suffering, said John Carter, chairman of the board of directors of Schnitzer Steel and chairman of the Oregon Business Council, which wrote the plan. And Kitzhaber announced a $200 million initiative aimed at boosting rural economies.

That goal could have been controversial. One of the priorities of the plan calls for unlocking the state’s natural resources, which includes more logging, a hot-button issue for environmentalists. Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said timber is a proxy for virtually every rural economic issue.

“Many elected officials fear the issue,” Wyden said.

But the biggest announcement at the summit concerned a $60 million initiative to develop and market a new lumber product that does not require logging old-growth trees — or older trees at all. Oregon State University and the University of Oregon are teaming up to research a new type of laminated wood product that already is being used to build tall residential and office buildings in Europe and Canada. Called “mass timber” and “cross-laminated lumber,” it can be made by certified companies with sustainably grown trees — a green building practice that is better for the environment than manufacturing the steel now used for high-rise buildings.

By coincidence, the main presentation was made by Vancouver, British Columbia, architect Michael Green. He showed the crowd slides of tall buildings being built with the relatively new material in other countries, including huge sheets of laminated wood being installed as the outside walls. The finished buildings were clean and modern, unlike the largest buildings today covered with T-111 plywood siding. According to Green, if such building practices were adopted in America, much of the lumber would come from rural Oregon, and the buildings would be built in this country’s cities to meet the needs of their growing populations.

After Green’s presentation, Thomas Maness, dean of the OSU College of Forestry, said his school is partnering with the UO School of Architecture and Design to create a new Oregon Forest Sciences Complex in Corvallis. The $60 million initiative will be started with $30 million in private funds matched by an equal amount of state bond proceeds promised by Kitzhaber, Maness said, adding that most of the private money already has been made.

Valerie Johnson, the owner of D.R. Johnson Lumber Co. and Riddle Laminators in Southern Oregon, said one of her plants already is being outfitted to manufacture the new laminated products.

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