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Updated: February 17, 2021

Tennessee engineered-wood manufacturer to begin $150M upgrade of New Limerick mill

Courtesy / LP Building Solutions LP Building Solutions in New Limerick is planning a major investment to increase production of the company’s flagship siding and trim product.

Louisiana-Pacific Corp. (NYSE: LPX), a manufacturer of engineered wood building products headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., is planning a $150 million conversion of its mill in New Limerick to manufacture the company’s flagship siding and trim product.

The company, which employs 160 people in the Aroostook County town, expects to increase consumption of local and sustainably sourced fiber by 30%, benefiting supply chain providers and local businesses, according to a news release Tuesday.

Louisiana-Pacific manufactures materials under the name LP Building Solutions. The conversion will allow the company to increase production of its leading product, an engineered wood trim and siding called LP SmartSide, Breeanna Straessle, a spokesperson for the company, told Mainebiz.

The conversion aims to supply growing demand for SmartSide and better penetrate the new home construction and repair and remodel markets along the East Coast. SmartSide uses a type of engineering wood called “oriented strand board.”

“SmartSide has experienced tremendous success and is one of the fastest-growing siding brands in the U.S.,” she wrote.

According to company information, LP pioneered the U.S. production of oriented strand board panels in 1982. 

She added, “This conversion illustrates our continued commitment to LP Houlton, which is our second-longest-running mill (commissioned in 1981). It’s also the second time that LP has invested in a major capital expansion project at this site — the first being Houlton’s LSL [laminated strand lumber] line, which was added in 2008.”

At that time, LP invested $140 million to upgrade the mill, to add 40 jobs and produce laminated strand lumber, an engineering wood product used in residential construction that is considered more environmentally friendly than traditional lumber. The mill was LP's first laminated strand lumber manufacturing facility, and one of only a few in North America.

Today, LP Houlton produces oriented strand board and laminated strand lumber, known as “LP SolidStart LSL,” on separate press lines that cannot simultaneously operate. 

Upon completion of the conversion to SmartSide, the facilty will exclusively run its new SmartSide line and no longer operate its laminated strand lumber line.  

Construction is expected to start this summer, with the production of SmartSide beginning in early 2022.  

The facility is located in New Limerick but is commonly called “LP Houlton” due to its proximity to the larger town, Straessle said. 

The conversion is also expected to position the facility for continued growth and improved stability, she added. 

“This mill’s conversion will maintain LP’s current 160 employees at the facility, which will provide continued employment within the region,” she wrote.

Gov. Janet Mills praised the announcement.

“I am excited to welcome this investment, which is a tribute not only to the County but to the folks who work hard there day-in and day-out,” Mills said in a news release. “This will strengthen the economy by sustaining good-paying jobs in the facility and up and down the local supply chain.”

According to Louisiana-Pacific Corp.’s 2020 annual report, issued Feb. 16, fourth-quarter LP SmartSide net sales increased by 30%, bringing full-year SmartSide net sales growth to 15%.

The company plans to expand SmartSide manufacturing at other facilities it owns in the U.S. and Canada.

Professional Logging Contractors of Maine also applauded the announcement. 

“This announcement is great news for loggers and their communities in northern Maine as they look to move forward after the toughest year they have experienced in living memory,” Dana Doran, the association’s executive director, said in a separate news release. “LP’s willingness to invest in the future of Maine’s forest economy and continue to provide a market for Maine wood is a hopeful sign for the logging industry. More than anything else, Maine loggers need markets, and those markets have suffered greatly in the last 12 months.”

LP buys poplar roundwood and some other hardwood for its siding.

LP’s announcement came at a time when Maine’s timber harvesters and haulers were hit hard in 2020: Most Maine logging contractors who are members of the PLC, the state’s trade association for timber harvesters and haulers, have reported a 30% to 40% reduction in wood markets over the past year. Many are suffering severe revenue losses, layoffs, loss of clients, reduced productivity, and inability to plan for the future.

The crisis is due to economic effects of the pandemic and the loss of the Pixelle Specialty Solutions pulp mill in Jay to an explosion in April, which hit logging companies closer to Jay the hardest, but impacted even northern Maine as the collapse of the pulp market further south spilled over to affect pulp prices and demand statewide.

Maine’s loggers are a vital part of the state’s forest products sector, which is worth an estimated $7.7 billion annually.

The logging industry contributed an estimated $619 million to the Maine economy in 2017, supported more than 9,000 jobs directly or indirectly, generated $342 million in labor income, and pumped an estimated $25 million into state and local tax coffers.

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