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Ainsworth Lumber Co.seeks new uses for OSB plants

Ainsworth Lumber Co. probably won't mill oriented strand board again at the Bemidji, Grand Rapids and Cook, Minn., plants.

But the company has begun investigating alternative uses for the 223-acre industrial site in Grand Rapids. Ainsworth also is actively promoting the sale of the site to prospects across the globe.

Bruce Gibson, investor relations for the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company, said Ainsworth also hopes to find alternative uses - notably in bio-energy products - for the Bemidji and Cook plants in the future.

OSB panels are used like plywood in home construction.

Ainsworth acquired the Grand Rapids mill in 2004 from Potlatch Corporation and discontinued manufacturing operations in 2006 because of very weak conditions in the housing markets that the mill served, according to a company press release.

Ainsworth announced Jan. 27 the permanent closure of the OSB mills in Bemidji and Cook. The Cook mill had not operated for a year, and the Bemidji mill curtailed operations in October.

The Cook and Bemidji mills were acquired by Ainsworth in 2004 as part of the acquisition of the OSB business of Potlatch Corp.

"I know that both here and in Grand Rapids, they are looking for effective reuses," said Larry Young, executive director of the Joint Economic Development Commission.

He said efforts at the local level are also aimed at bringing back the 140 jobs lost when the Bemidji mill closed. He said a Blandin Foundation grant has been approved and a Northwest Minnesota Foundation grant is pending - the two grants totaling $50,000 - for a feasibility study for woody biomass production at the mill.

The study will show the quantity and quality of woody biomass available locally and companies that would be interested in the business. He said the large Ainsworth complex could be developed as an eco-energy park.

"The energy park is just one of the many (possible) things, but one that could bring some new, green industry into the area," Young said. "Bring back jobs the community lost."

As part of its effort to return the Grand Rapids facility to productive use and replace the jobs that were lost, Ainsworth has been working with the Itasca Economic Development Corporation to investigate the feasibility of redeveloping the site as a multi-tenant Eco Industrial Park for tenants focused on producing clean, renewable, sustainable energy products.

Ainsworth has also been in contact with officials at the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development officials about the possible reuse and sale of these facilities and other Ainsworth sites in Cook and Bemidji.

"We welcome all the support that we have received from the local and state authorities in Minnesota," said Rick Huff, Ainsworth CEO, in a press release. "Unfortunately, our own leveraged balance sheet prevents us from investing our own capital in these efforts, but we want to be as helpful as we can in creating jobs in the region."

According to the press release, the Grand Rapids site has drawn interest from companies involved in the bio energy industry (wood pellet manufacturing), wind energy (turbine and blade manufacturers), as well as companies involved in certain mining related functions.