Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 11/08/10
NewWood, New Jobs
During my visit to Grays Harbor County last spring, I had the opportunity to tour an idled wood-based siding plant in Elma. New owners were working—with the help of WSU researchers—to transform the facility, and their enthusiasm was both inspiring and infectious.
Then, last week, there was a significant milestone. NewWood Manufacturing, which produces sustainable wood-plastic building materials, announced the opening of its new plant, which is expected to create about 150 jobs when it is fully operational.
That is great news for Grays Harbor County; the unemployment rate there is around 12 percent. And it is a perfect example of the role that WSU plays in economic development through our research and outreach.
When John Bowser, the CEO of NewWood, began to look into reopening the plant, he also began talking with faculty members in WSU’s Composite Materials and Engineering Center.
The center exemplifies WSU’s land-grant research and extension mission. Not only do CMEC faculty members engage in the scientific work necessary to develop new building materials, they are also actively involved in helping move that research into the private sector.
Bowser cites the efforts of Karl Englund and Vikram Yadama, WSU research professors and extension specialists, and professors Mike Wolcott and Bob Tichy as being instrumental in launching the plant. WSU faculty members provided advice about the technology of materials manufacturing and helped identify potential products and markets.
NewWood officials also worked closely with the state’s legislative delegation and economic development officials to locate available funding.
On my tour, I came away impressed both by the scope of this undertaking (it is a 275,000 square-foot facility) and by the absolutely essential role that university research played in making it all happen.
The plant will produce utility board made from waste wood and recycled plastic. Initially, the boards will be used in fruit bins, pallets, and crates. The company is also working to identify other possible products.
As a result of this public-private partnership, 170 million pounds of wood and plastic waste that otherwise would be headed for landfills annually will instead become building materials. And the Grays Harbor County economy will get a substantial boost.
When I talk to business and legislative leaders around the state about the importance of university funding, my message is straightforward: Washington State University’s education and research benefit every Washingtonian every day.
Today in Elma, I think that message is coming through loud and clear.