Maine birch logs

A $2.8 million federal grant is set to bring new opportunity to parts of rural Maine affected by economic declines in the forest products industry.

The award comes from a federal-state alliance called the Northern Border Regional Commission (NRBC).

“It’s designed to help in regions with declining populations due to mills closing and displaced workers that are specific to rural areas,” Andrea Smith, the NRBC program manager for Maine, told The Center Square.

“The grants are meant to revitalize the communities, to help them invest in themselves, leading to improved economy so people can stay in the communities,” Smith said.

The Maine grants include:

• $1 million to the University of Maine to help expand advanced wood-based manufacturing

• $646,000 to the Maine Development Foundation to revitalize projects in communities affected by mill closures

• approximately $300,000 to the counties of Franklin and Oxford (part of a $900,000 allocation to the Northern Forest Center, which is shared with other states)

• $450,000 to East Millinocket Industrials to help develop its shuttered mill into a vital multi-industrial site.

Smith estimated that the Millinocket redevelopment could bring at least 250 new jobs to the site and even more indirect jobs to the region.

In all, nine sites in Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont were awarded $7.2 million from the Regional Forest Economy Partnership, a first-time program from the NBRC, which was established by Congress in 2008.

The funding notice to applicants notes that the awards, “are highly leveraged, transformational investments that have a fundamental impact on community economic revitalization.”

Under the terms of the grant, recipients must submit quarterly progress reports.

“The commission felt really positive about the projects we funded and look forward to seeing how it plays out,” Smith said.

Once the NBRC determines the availability of funds, they hope to issue more Regional Forest Economy Partnership awards in 2020.