Oregon ‘mass timber’ coalition among finalists for $1 billion in federal economic grants

A coalition led by the Port of Portland is among 60 finalists vying for $1 billion in economic development grants tied to the Biden administration’s coronavirus relief package and aimed at improving job training and regional industry partnerships.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced 60 finalists on Monday from 529 applicants for the grants. That means roughly 11% of submissions made it to the next round, which will ultimately choose 20 to 30 regional coalitions for up to $100 million in grants that could shape manufacturing, clean energy and life sciences hubs around the country. Twelve of the finalists were from places tied to the coal industry.

The Port-led coalition’s proposal aims to expand the state’s fledgling “mass timber” industry, which aims to expand the use of highly engineered wood products for uses that would be impossible with regular lumber.

If selected, the coalition says the federal funds would allow it to design and prototype modular housing made from mass timber products. The Oregon group says the funds would be used to build a factory and a workforce training center.

Oregon has pushed mass timber as a way to boost the state’s flagging timber and manufacturing industries. It can use young and low-value trees, so it’s seen as a greener alternative to traditional logging. But it’s been slow to launch, and the failure of mass timber panels during the construction of a showpiece building on the Oregon State University campus demonstrated the technical precision required.

The finalists for the federal grants were predominantly coalitions made up of government, academic and economic partnerships. They will receive $500,000 each to help plan for the next round, with applications due in March. The deadline for choosing the winners is September.

“This program will bring communities back in regions across America,” Alejandra Castillo, assistant commerce secretary for economic development, said in an interview. She said the program was designed to bring different local partners together “to leverage their assets.”

Among the city-led finalists are: Indianapolis; Newark, New Jersey; Tucson, Arizona; Manchester, New Hampshire; Phoenix; and New Orleans. The finalists also include universities in Alabama, Maine, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Kansas. There are also economic partnerships and industry-specific organizations such as the Wisconsin Paper Council.

White House senior adviser Gene Sperling, who is overseeing coronavirus relief, said interest far exceeded the expected 150 applicants.

By Staff and wire reports