I grew up in Port Angeles. The lifeblood of my town, and others on the Olympic Peninsula was the timber industry. As harvest levels declined, I watched as my friends’ parents lost their jobs and were forced to find new work. Those experiences motivated me.
They motivated me to work in economic development and guided my focus on getting the local economy working for everyone. In our region, we don’t want the top export of our rural communities to be young people. Today, we have an opportunity to grow the timber industry in a way that doesn’t put conservation at odds with job creation.
It starts with innovation. We generally think of Washington state as the birthplace of big innovations. Commercial jets from Boeing ushered in a new era of air travel. Personal computers with software created by Microsoft changed the way we do business. And a little website called Amazon changed the way we shop.
Now, we have a chance to change the way buildings are constructed. Instead of concrete and steel we can now use innovative wood products like cross-laminated timber (CLT) to construct buildings over six stories tall. These products are being used in buildings all around the world — just take a look at the University of British Columbia in Canada where they are building an 18-story residential hall almost entirely out of these new wood products.
With CLT and other innovative wood technologies we can utilize an abundant and sustainable product native to Washington state that connects rural economies to greener urban growth.
CLT has a lot of folks excited for a lot of reasons. First, increased use of responsibly harvested wood could mean more jobs in rural areas of our state. Additionally, using a renewable resource rather than steel or concrete means that our buildings can be greener. Furthermore, these new wood products are strong, fire resistant, and may actually be safer in an earthquake than non-wood alternatives.
Construction sites across the country could soon use sturdy, innovative, renewable wood products grown and manufactured right here in our region. That’s why, for the past two years, I’ve directed key agencies like the Department of Defense to explore using these products when constructing new facilities.
And this week, I’ve helped take the next step on this front by introducing new bipartisan legislation to promote the production and use of these innovative timber products. The bill would get a few key initiatives started like a new research and development program to advance tall wood construction in our country and reauthorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Tall Wood Building Prize Competition for another five years.
I’m proud to say the bill also includes a provision I authored to ensure that a newly established wood innovation grant program would help rural communities hit by declining timber harvest levels by prioritizing projects that would utilize existing mill infrastructure in areas currently experiencing high unemployment. That could provide a boost to towns like Forks, Shelton, and Port Angeles that have experienced recent mill closures.
I’m glad we are making progress on this front, but there is still a long way to go. Our goal is to make sure Washington state revolutionizes our nation’s economy once again. This time with a product that is part of our state’s DNA.