Three years ago, John Bowser went looking for a press for his high-pressure laminate business. But he fell in love instead with the technology he saw at a shuttered composite siding plant in Elma, Wash.
So now he's reopening that plant, which will make a wood-plastic composite for pallets, crates and fruit bins.
The 275,000-square-foot plant is scheduled to start up at the end of April or early May with roughly 50 employees.
I actually started this project 31/2 years ago, said Bowser, president and CEO of newly formed NewWood Corp. and manufacturing arm NewWood Manufacturing Inc., both based in Tacoma.
I came out to this place looking for a piece of equipment, he said in a Nov. 22 phone interview. I found a press, but it wasn't something you could just pick up and move. I told them, 'You need to sell the plant, not the equipment,' and they said, 'How about helping us sell it?'
The plant formerly housed Boise Cascade Corp.'s composite siding business the company planned to use the plant to make siding from recycled film and urban wood waste. The factory never achieved commercial production levels, and has been shuttered since early 2006,
It didn't take long for Bowser, a longtime entrepreneur in the building materials industry, to see the market potential for the Polyply wood-plastic composite that Boise had developed.
It was love at first sight, Bowser said. It felt very comfortable to me. I understood the process and saw immediate market opportunities. We have defined over 100 potential market segments we'd be compatible in.
Completing the acquisition took longer than Bowser anticipated. The minute we said 'let's go forward,' the recession hit town, he said. But in late October, Bowser finished acquiring the needed financing, secured a 20-year lease with two options to extend it to 40 years for the plant. He also acquired all manufacturing assets and patent rights to the technology.
This plant was tailored to make a lap siding product for residential applications, Bowser said. We are going to take the technology and initially make 4-foot-by-8-foot utility boards that manufacturers can use to fabricate into pallets, crates, boxing and fruit bins.
We have large-scale capital assets Vecoplan shredders, Pallman granulators and Simple-Kamp plywood presses that are similar to what you see in a large laminated OSB paperboard plant, he said. We want to make products for markets where wood has been traditionally used but always subject to water and bacteria problems and help solve that problem by making products that have a non-porous plastic surface.
The composite mix will be roughly 52 percent plastic both low and high density polyethylene and 48 percent wood.
We've been negotiating with some major recycling companies in the U.S. because we have the ability to draw a tremendous amount of materials that has been going to landfills for this plant, Bowser said. We hope to start cycling some parts of the plant in January.
Ultimately, the plant will employ more than 150 and have the capacity for 100 million square feet of material a year, he said.
We want to work up to 25 percent of capacity in the first 12-16 months and go from there.
Financing for NewWood was arranged through a combination of a loan provided by Enterprise Cascadia and the sale of federal tax credits to U.S. Bancorp. EnterpriseCascadia is a certified non-profit Community Development Financial Institution serving urban and rural communities of Oregon and Washington.
Bowser is former CEO of Trespa North America, a global manufacturer of high-pressure laminate products and he also has had entrepreneurial success in commercial cabinets, mill work and composite panels, and exterior wall cladding products for commercial applications.
I think a key component of this is the scalability of this technology, he said. We can take it to other parts of the country and the world and help solve recycling issues, add jobs and produce a panel product.
This product could very well be the building product of choice for developing countries, Bowser added.