ATHENS, OH -  An incubator for wood products businesses has been funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The Appalachian Ohio Wood Products Cluster, managed by the Appalachian Partnership, Inc., is one of 14 Regional Innovation Clusters, and could qualify for up to $2.5 million in grants.

Competition for the SBA grants was fierce, with 40 applications yielding three new clusters, including the wood manufacturing one. While the area's wood products industry has particular strength in furniture manufacturing, it includes a number of sub-sectors, including veneer and plywood manufacturing, flooring and engineered wood manufacturing.

•Appalachian hardwoods, the vast majority of Ohio’s forest base, are highly prized throughout the world.
•The forest products industry consists of 4 main aggregate groups: resource, solid wood products, pulp and paper and wood furniture. •The state of Ohio has approximately 8.05 million acres under forest cover, 30.7 percent of Ohio’s land area.
•Total forest products exported in 2010 amounted to $8.2 billion. Domestic shipments (within the United States to states outside Ohio) totaled $7.24 billion while $964 million of products were shipped internationally.
•Nearly three-quarters of Ohio’s forestland, 5.8 million acres, is held by 336,000 non-industrial private landowners.

The Appalachian Ohio Wood Products Cluster is also intended to help the region transfer from a waning coal economy to the more promising wood manufacturing and forest products market.

"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," said Douglas Kramer, Deputy Administrator of the SBA. He made the announcement about the Appalachian Ohio Wood Products Cluster while visiting Ohio University in Athens, an institutional partner of the cluster. 

The wood cluster is also a participant in the inter-agency Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative, an effort designed to assist communities impacted by changes in the coal economy.

The wood cluster initiative will focus on the woods products industry and serve Appalachian Ohio: a largely rural, 16,000-square mile region spanning 32 counties. Although the region's economy has been strained by recent changes in the coal economy (including the closures of local power plants, mines and generators), the wood products sector that this cluster initiative serves presents a spectacular opportunity: the regional wood products industry has a nearly identical geographic footprint as the coal sector, requires comparable workforce skills and is one of the state's top five manufacturing sectors for projected employment growth through 2020.

The wood industry cluster joins a portfolio of 14 SBA-supported clusters—geographically-concentrated groups of interconnected businesses, suppliers, service providers, and related institutions in a particular industry or field—that span across the nation from San Diego to the Northeast corridor, serving sectors that include water technologies, fuel cells, smart-grid technology, drone manufacture, and flexible electronics manufacturing, among others.

Clusters supported through the program are awarded $500,000 for the base year of the contract, with four option years to be exercised at the SBA's discretion, for up to a total of $2.5 million per cluster initiative over five years. The SBA's funding is provided to each cluster's organizing entity to strengthen opportunities for small businesses within the cluster. The funds are used to provide mentoring and counseling services, mentor-protégé and teaming programming, and to showcase and pitch events to prospective investors and public-private sector adopters of new technology.

Useful links:

Ohio Wood Products Profile 

Ohio State University Appalachian Wood Industry

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