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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho Forest Group to make cross-laminated timber

A super-strong engineered wood product popular in Europe is coming to America under a joint venture involving a Coeur d’Alene-based lumber producer.

Idaho Forest Group, which operates five mills in North Idaho, will jump into cross-laminated timber, or CLT, in a partnership with the Johann Offner Group, a global manufacturing company headquartered in Wolfsberg, Austria.

The family-owned companies together will market and distribute CLT building systems in the U.S. as soon as this year, said Marc Brinkmeyer, chairman of Idaho Forest Group.

Idaho Forest Group, which distributes lumber all over the U.S. and also exports to Asia, will be the first company to sell CLT in this country, Brinkmeyer said Tuesday.

“The time is right,” he said. “I’ve known the Offners since the ’90s. We are very close philosophically. We have family values. They’ve been in business for 250 years – highly respected.”

Brinkmeyer has watched development of the engineered wood for about five years and has seen “very cost-effective, attractive buildings” made from CLT components.

“Many leading European architects and builders are using this technology to make significant and appealing structures,” he said.

Idaho Forest Group initially will import CLT with an eye toward manufacturing it within 24 to 36 months, he said. It’s too early to say where domestic production will occur, he added.

The company has mills at Chilco just north of Coeur d’Alene, at Laclede near Priest River, at Moyie Springs near Bonners Ferry, and in Grangeville and Lewiston.

The engineered wood consists of layers of lumber oriented at right angles to one another and glued together to form rigid panels with exceptional strength and stability. Those panels then are made into building components such as walls and floors.

“It’s not just a product, it’s a complete building system,” Brinkmeyer explained.

Invented in 1996 by KLH Austria, now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Johann Offner Group, CLT is seen as an emerging alternative to concrete, masonry and steel.

“It’s 20 percent of the weight of concrete and steel and the equivalent strength,” Brinkmeyer said.

It’s used primarily in commercial and industrial projects, such as corporate headquarters, theaters, schools, financial institutions and office towers.

The announcement dovetails with new federal initiatives to encourage use of composite wood products, including a $2 million prize competition to design and build high-rise structures from wood. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday announced a partnership to train architects, engineers and builders on the benefits of such materials.

“Wood may be one of the world’s oldest building materials, but it is now also one of the most advanced,” Vilsack said.