Appalachian Ohio gets federal funding for wood industry

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck got a $500,000 grant from the Small Business Association? Well, that remains to be seen, but the wood manufacturing business in Appalachian Ohio is hoping to see a big boost thanks to the recent award.

On Thursday, Douglas Kramer, deputy administrator for the Small Business Association, announced that Appalachian Ohio will receive funding through the agency to enhance its wood products industry. The announcement was made at the Ohio University Inn.

The Appalachian Ohio Wood Products Cluster was one of three “clusters” to receive $500,000 announced on Tuesday. The other clusters include a bioscience cluster in St. Louis, Missouri, and an unmanned aerial systems cluster in south Kansas and Oklahoma.

“Clusters are public-private partnerships that are driving innovation and job creation in our most promising regional hubs,” Kramer explained. “SBA has built a strategic infrastructure of financing and consulting resources in key regions to help new companies launch and small companies grow, particularly in underserved communities across the country. We’re unleashing the full potential of entrepreneurs who are developing cutting-edge products and processes that will help ensure American global competitiveness, creating supportive environments for small businesses in regions with the most need.”

The three cluster awardees were selected from more than 40 applicants. The Appalachian Ohio cluster is a participant in the inter-agency Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative, which is designed to assist communities impacted by changes in the coal economy. This includes the reduction of coal mining and the closure of coal-fired power plants.

The Appalachian Ohio cluster includes all 32 Appalachian counties in Ohio and will focus on the wood products sector. The sector not only includes wood furniture manufacturing, but also veneer and plywood manufacturing, flooring and engineered wood manufacturing. According to the SBA, it is one of the state’s top five manufacturing sectors for projected employment growth through 2020.

Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth (APEG) in Nelsonville will administer the $500,000 in funds. This will also allow for partnerships at two higher education institutions in Southeast Ohio. Ohio University’s Voinovich School for Leadership and Public Affairs will help establish a database of wood products suppliers and exporters while Washington State Community College in Marietta has launched a certification-training program for wood products manufacturing.

The SBA contract is for $500,000 the first year and can be renewed for four additional years for a total of $2.5 million.

“There is enormous potential for expanding our furniture and wood processing industries,” said John Molinaro, president and CEO of APEG. “In furniture manufacturing alone we have nearly 24,000 skilled workers whose wages and benefits are over $1 billion a year. This is an industry that deserves our attention and can create jobs.”

In addition to the cluster award from the SBA, a second POWER initiative was announced by the Appalachian Regional Commission and awarded to Rural Action in Athens. The $68,700 one-year grant will focus on 75 southeastern Ohio wood and forest product producers.

“We’ll be working with small businesses, craftsmen, farmers and timber harvesters who use local hardwoods and softwoods and add value to them in home-based shops and portable sawmills and who market by word-of-mouth,” said Michelle Decker, CEO of Rural Action.

According to a news release from Rural Action, the ARC grant will “bring together entrepreneurs to identify market and service delivery options that help rural small businesses collaborate to increase revenues; connect producers to technical and workforce support; assist landowners with forest management and sustainable production; and connect wood products to the tourism sector through Ohio’s Appalachian Winding Road project.”

From The Athens Messenger  |  October 16, 2015