The members of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board today unanimously recommended that IRRR Commissioner Mark Philips approve an agency loan of $15 million from the Douglas J. Johnson Economic Protection Trust Fund in support of a major wood products plant proposed to be located at Cohasset.
This project will likely be the single-largest new construction investment in our timber industry of this century and, as member of the IRRR Board, I am pleased to support it. The total project represents approximately a $439.3 million investment in the timber industry here in Northeast Minnesota.
Over the past several decades we have experienced a series of paper and wood product closures across our region. This project, when completed, will consume as much as 150 truckloads of timber per day, provide about 158 full-time jobs at the mill and support several times that number of jobs in the surrounding logging and transportation industry. It is anticipated that plant will produce about 20,000 truckloads of finished product annually for the nation’s housing industry.
The project is being proposed by Huber Engineered Woods, LLC, a major wood-products company with over 100 years of experience in the timber and wood fiber industry. The company annually does over a billion dollars in annual sales and has about 1,000 employees in the U.S. The proposal includes a $376.8 million private sector investment, $15 million from the DJJ/IRRR, $20 million from the 21st Century Fund managed by Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and about $27.5 million in additional partner investments.
This facility is planned to be located on 400 acres at Cohasset, in an 800,000-square foot production facility. The raw material for the plant, which is primarily aspen timber, will be harvested from a wood basket within about a 100-mile radius of Cohasset. That area includes major portions of both Aitkin and Crow Wing counties, which has a long history of providing timber for the many timber mills that once dotted the Northeastern Minnesota landscape. That will provide an important additional market for the timber that is harvest by local logging companies harvest in our area.
The Douglas J. Johnson Economic Protection Trust Fund provides business development loans to private enterprises for the purpose of job creation and economic development within the Taconite Assistance Area. This fund is managed by the IRRR Agency, with the goal of diversifying the economic base of the Cuyuna Iron Range, along with the Mesabi and Vermillion Iron ranges. The boundaries of the taconite assistance area in the Aitkin and Crow Wing county region are those represented by the Aitkin and Crosby-Ironton school district boundaries.
The positive action by the IRRR Board on this project is a major step forward in strengthening the natural resources-based economy of Northeastern Minnesota. While there remains significant administrative and permitting milestones ahead, groundbreaking for the construction phase of this project could take place as early as late this fall or the spring of 2022. It is anticipated the construction phase will take approximately 36-48 months, before the plant would become fully operational.