June/July 2007 By Ramona du Houx Global technological advances are changing manufacturing worldwide. In order to compete in the global economy companies need to keep up to date with the technology, which means changing traditional ways and retraining workers to meet the new demands of the high-tech world. In Maine the story is unfolding on how it’s possible to move […]
By Ramona du Houx
Global technological advances are changing manufacturing worldwide. In order to compete in the global economy companies need to keep up to date with the technology, which means changing traditional ways and retraining workers to meet the new demands of the high-tech world. In Maine the story is unfolding on how it’s possible to move forward in the global economy if new technologies are embraced and change is viewed as a positive component.
When Governor Baldacci took the oath of office four and a half years ago on his inaugural day he faced mills closing. Thousands of jobs would be lost. Immediately he put his economic, labor, and legal teams together and focused on the problem. He was determined to save jobs and help transform these companies for the future.
Some of those mills have downsized, specialized, and some have new owners that are investing in future technologies that will position the facilities soundly into the global economy.
“Of course the governor’s Pine Tree Zone benefits have encouraged companies to locate in the state. Making the right connections and partnerships has been key,” said Jack Cashman the governor’s senior economic advisor. “The partnership with the research facility at the University of Maine has already benefited, and will continue to benefit, the state’s economic future with multiple technologies. Red Shield’s partnership with that facility is a great example.”
Red Shield, who bought the Georgia Pacific Mill, stands out as a company determined to invest in future technologies that will also help stem global warming.
“We are continuing to develop a state-of-the-art energy park,” said Edward Paslawski, chairman and CEO of Red Shield Environmental, LLC and of Hallowell International, LLC. “We’re working with a hydroponics company from the Netherlands to build a large-scale greenhouse. We have six other companies in development, including a solar business. The multiplier effect on the local economy will be substantial.”
In June Red Shield announced that they would begin producing pulp at the mill.
“With the restarting of the pulp mill, you can count more than 180 good paying jobs with health insurance and pension plans at this Old Town plant, but this is still just the beginning,” said Governor Baldacci. “We are not only restarting the pulp mill. We are announcing a partnership where this facility will be using new patented technology from the University of Maine’s Chemical Engineering Department.”
The new, patented technology will enable Red Shield Environmental, LLC, working in partnership with UMO, to make Maine a leader in the production of ethanol using hemi-cellulose that will be extracted from the wood fiber to create the biofuels.
According the Energy Information Administration (EIA), cellulose biomass could help America meet nearly half its transportation fuel needs by the middle of the century. Until now the technology wasn’t as cost effective as hoped. New discoveries, some made here in Maine at UMO, have advanced that technology making it advantageous to produce ethanol as a sustainable fuel source.
This new UMO patented technology will allow the Old Town facility to become the first plant of its kind to manufacture biofuels from cellulose.
“Cellulosic biomass is a highly undervalued and underutilized energy asset,” said UMO Professor Hemant Pendse, chairman of the university’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. “Ethanol from cellulose can substitute for petroleum in many manufacturing processes such as plastic and could contribute in a major way to reducing our dependency on oil while helping to address climate change by reducing our need to burn fossil fuels.”
Old Town is poised to become a leader in the production of ethanol.
“Not only will we help you make the gas you can pump at the gas station, we will help you make the polyesters and plastics from the wood,” said professor Pendse. “This bio-refinery park will be using the latest industrial biotechnology to produce ethanol from cellulose. I believe people all over the world are going to look to see how we managed to do this transition successfully.”
Governor Baldacci praised the workforce in the areas where mills closed, saying that their reputation is to credit for getting some of the facilities back on their feet and others on that path. The governor also praised efforts by the University of Maine to create the partnership with Old Town.
“A key element of all of the redevelopment of this site and the future viability and sustainability of this site is with the University of Maine and the research that they are doing,” said Governor Baldacci.
The governor said that transforming the Old Town site to a modern technology transfer center will further increase the viability and sustainability of the jobs at the facility.
Red Shield Environmental, LLC said that they expect to make a $100 million capital investment in the facility over the next twelve months.
500 New Jobs At Former Mill Site In Brewer—
Meanwhile downriver in Brewer, another former mill will be employing over 500 highly skilled workers.
Cianbro Corp., a Pittsfield construction company plans to build steel modules at the Eastern Fine Paper Co. mill site in Brewer. Since the mill closed in January 2004, the governor’s economic development team has been searching for potential buyers to redevelop the 41-acre riverfront site. Many potential prospects came forward, the best of which materialized this June, as the new facility will employ highly skilled workers from the area. “It will be the best use of the old Eastern Fine mill site that will bring back industry and shipping on the Penobscot River,” said City Manager Steve Bost.
The former mill will be transformed into a manufacturing facility employing over 500 people, from welders, electricians, pipe fitters, millwrights, to other highly-skilled workers from all over the region.
“I hope that through this exercise people realize that “Maine built” means quality and integrity. It’s the Maine brand that is excellence,” said Governor Baldacci.
“It’s all local people. We were impressed with the skilled workforce in the area that worked for us before,” said Ernie Kilbride, Cianbro’s vice-president of project development. “There is a huge demand for these types of modules.”
The modules are prefabricated, self-standing building structures that will be shipped out by barge and joined into larger structures elsewhere. Some of the modules that will be built can be as wide as 120 feet and weigh up to 1,200 tons.
City and company officials are confident the facility will be up and running in 10 months starting production in April of 2008.
The Brewer site was selected because it has enough room to build huge modules, access to the river for transportation, and the closeness of the interstate highway system and rail. And most of all, “We chose Maine simply because we recognize the value of the people in the state,” said Peter G. Vigue, CEO and president of Cianbro Corp. “They have never let us down. Their work is the best and the community has welcomed us with open arms.”
“It’s the leadership of Pete Vigue, it’s the combination of a great city staff in Brewer, working together with the region and the state,” said the Governor. “Everybody worked together, moving heaven and earth to make these things happen.”
The modules speed up the setup time of buildings on construction sites.
Working with the governor’s economic team the city plans to make the riverfront site a Pine Tree Zone.
The new facility’s massive deep-water dock will be owned by Brewer and will be available for other regional companies to use.
The average wage for skilled laborers at Cianbro runs $19 an hour, plus benefits, with top wages close to $30 an hour. “If you want to learn to be a welder, we’ll train you,” said Vigue. The company already is working with a majority of the technical high schools, community colleges, and the University of Maine.
“Six years ago there were roughly 600 people employed at the Old Town facility and 300 at the Brewer mill. They were good paying jobs. At one time we had none of them. By June 1, 2008, all 900 jobs and more will be back. That’s great news for Maine’s economy,” said Jack Cashman.