Clallam EDC sees potential in innovative forest products

The Clallam County Economic Development Council is prioritizing getting working-age people back into the workforce and has acquired federal grant money with that goal in mind.

Speaking to the Nor’Wester Rotary Club of Port Angeles on April 28, EDC director Colleen McAleer said the council had recently been awarded a $50,000 grant to help establish a Natural Resources Innovation Center, which will promote forestry industry products in the county.

“We want to create a 501(c)6, so a membership-driven industry organization, and then that will support businesses in the forest products industry and reduce waste and maximize resources,” McAleer said.

“One of the things they want to do with that is figure out how we can do more value-added products, particularly in the housing industry.”

The EDC matched the $50,000 grant with its own $65,000 and will use that money to hire a program manager that will help establish a 501(c)6 organization that will in turn work to decide how to best apply for another set of federal grants aimed at helping get working-age people into the workforce.

Those grants, known as Recompete grants, are currently in the pilot phase, but the federal government has provided $100 million to the U.S. Economic Development Authority to distribute funds to economically distressed areas for economic development and job creation.

The Federal Reserve considers people between the ages of 25-54 to be the prime age for working and nationally about 80 percent of people that age are currently employed.

But according to 2019 data, in Clallam County only about 53 percent of prime-aged people are working, McAleer said, meaning there are about 6,500 people that are not in the local workforce.

McAleer noted that federal data may be inaccurate and that the EDC is working to get better workforce data. The EDC is working with Peninsula College to research how to get those working-age people into jobs that have good career progression.

There are a number of innovative things happening in the forest products industry on the North Olympic Peninsula the EDC hopes to help develop using those federal grants.

Makah mill

The Makah Tribe manages 30,000 acres of sustainably managed forest lands and has recently received money to build a mill and kiln, McAleer said.

The tribe has also entered into an agreement with Port Angeles-based Composite Recycling Technology Center (CRTC), which is developing a kind of wood panel reinforced with carbon fiber that can be used in housing.

McAleer said CRTC is currently contracted with the U.S. military to test its wood panels — known as advanced cross-laminated timber — for potential use in housing.

The lack of housing in the county also was a significant barrier to the region’s economic growth, McAleer said.

There are also other potential uses for local timber products including biochar, a substance made from burnt timber that has multiple uses, including as a potential energy source.

Forks, Beaver

Florida-based Sustainable Green Team, which manufactures the biochar soil amendment HumiSoil, is currently working on establishing mills in Forks and Beaver.

“There’s all these different things that can be done in the natural resources energy sector that are much more innovative than what is happening today,” McAleer said.

The Rebuilding Economies and Creating Opportunities for More People to Excel, or Recompete Act, was introduced by the Olympic Peninsula’s U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2021 but failed to pass the Senate. A pilot version of the program was included in the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors, or CHIPS and Science Act, which was signed into law in 2022.