COOK— The former Ainsworth OSB plant near Cook has won out over a site in Hoyt Lakes as the expected home of a new engineered wood siding plant to be built by Louisiana-Pacific. The company …
COOK— The former Ainsworth OSB plant near Cook has won out over a site in Hoyt Lakes as the expected home of a new engineered wood siding plant to be built by Louisiana-Pacific. The company acquired the former Ainsworth plant last month in anticipation that it will be part of the company’s plan to expand its production of Smart Siding, an engineered product manufactured primarily from aspen.
The plant is unlikely to open before 2018, but months of construction would be required to convert the former OSB plant to a siding facility. The company is currently moving forward with detailed engineering on the planned re-purposing of the site.
Louisiana-Pacific spokesperson Mark Morrison said the plant, given its size, would likely employ around 150 workers, which would be similar to the workforce employed by Ainsworth. That is somewhat smaller than the initial job creation estimates, which had been as high as 400 at the plant. But Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said a second phase at the site could include installation of a second board press, which would significantly expand production and job creation at the site. The facility would also generate significant new employment opportunities for loggers and truckers in the area, further adding to the economic impact. Early estimates put the revenue to loggers and truckers at about $60 million annually.
“It’s a big deal,” said Bakk. “It’s pretty good news for Cook and Tower both,” he added. “These little towns need it so bad.”
While the company had originally been considering construction of a new plant at the Laskin Energy Park in Hoyt Lakes, Bakk said the advantages of the Ainsworth site eventually won out. Those advantages include the fact that much of the needed infrastructure is already in place, including the existing wood yard and direct rail access and frontage on Hwy. 53. Bakk said the expected traffic of up to 300 logging trucks a day in the winter, would have posed traffic concerns in Aurora and Hoyt Lakes and likely would have required costly road upgrades in the area.
The one disadvantage at the Ainsworth site is the lack of natural gas, but that’s an issue that state officials say they intend to solve. Natural gas pipelines along the Hwy. 53 corridor currently end at Inland Steel, according to Bakk, and he said he is working with the IRRRB and other state agencies to get a natural gas line extended at least to the Ainsworth site, and possible all the way to Cook.
Despite the change in location, state incentives previously approved by the IRRRB will remain in effect, according to Phillips.
The Cook site had taken a back seat initially due to covenants that a former owner of the site, Canadian-based Norbord, had placed on the property’s deed, which prevented production of board products by any future owner. But that issue was apparently resolved between Louisiana-Pacific and Norbord as part of a deal announced Oct. 28, in which the two companies agreed to swap Canadian board plants. Under the deal, Louisiana-Pacific will acquire a Norbord facility in Val-d’Or, Quebec, which has a 16-foot board press that the company is likely to use as part of its expanded production of wood siding.
While the Quebec facility could also be retrofitted for the production of siding, Minnesota officials think that’s unlikely, at least for now. According to Bakk, the Quebec plant doesn’t currently have access to an adequate wood supply, which would make an expansion difficult. In either case, spokesperson Morrison said Cook plant is “certainly part” of the company’s plan for expansion. He noted that the Cook facility comes with an abundant available wood supply and a ready and reliable workforce.
After years of work to put the project together, Bakk said it appears that it’s now very close to reality. “I think it’s done,” he said. “I don’t see anything getting in the way.” Bakk said he’s been in contact with Gov. Mark Dayton, and both DFL and Republican leaders in the Legislature and every one of them has expressed full support for resolving any remaining issues that may come up.
One outstanding issue is the failure of the Legislature to complete approval of a sales tax exemption for construction materials associated with the project. It’s a common incentive, one that had been included in the Legislature’s tax bill, which Gov. Dayton vetoed last May. Bakk said he’s been assured by all parties that the exemption will meet with approval during the upcoming legislative session, which gets underway in January.
While the decision is likely to be a disappointment to officials in Aurora-Hoyt Lakes, Bakk said the economic benefits of the plant will filter across the region, helping to boost the local logging and trucking industry as well as providing employment for mill workers, many of whom are already used to significant commutes.
Louisiana-Pacific is set to make a final decision on the future of its new Cook facility at a board meeting set for Feb. 1, 2017.