PASSADUMKEAG, Maine — Nearly $1 million in federal grants and access to the Department of Energy’s largest research center will help Maine’s $8.5 billion forest products industry determine its future as paper usage declines, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced Wednesday.

The $1 million in grants will aid mill site redevelopment, broadband access for mill communities, small business support and high school training programs, EDA officials said. The grants include $200,000 for redevelopment of a specific Bucksport mill site and $145,000 to the Maine International Trade Center to aid small businesses that export wood products.

Access to Oak Oak Ridge National Laboratory — the U.S. Department of Energy‘s largest research center — will help researchers at the University of Maine address the future of bio-based materials, including nano-cellular technology, biofuels and additive manufacturing, as part of a multi-pronged plan to guide and repair the state’s forest products industry.

Based in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the lab has a staff of nearly 5,000 and an annual budget of $1.5 billion. Created in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, it’s home to the world’s largest supercomputers. 

According to the EDA, over the last several years, a number of Maine’s major paper mills have closed, and thousands of Americans living in rural communities have lost their jobs.

After Maine’s senators asked for federal help in March 2016, the EDA deployed an interagency Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT) to eastern Maine in August.

An EDAT enables EDA to marshal the full range of federal resources on behalf of a region experiencing economic distress. This tailored response has been used to address incidents like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the collapse of New England’s fisheries.

After evaluating economic strategies, EDAT gave the green light for the grants and laboratory access.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.