ANSON — The owners of a growing wood products mill in North Anson met Friday with state and local officials to discuss options for aiding expansion of the business and possibly absorbing workers facing layoffs with the looming closure of Madison Paper Industries.

The meeting followed a tour of Cousineau Wood Products, which has grown in the past few years by focusing on manufacturing gunstocks. The company has 93 full-time workers at its North Anson mill and has diversified its line of products to pistol grips, knife scales and wooden bleachers for auditorium seating. The company is part of Wilton-based Cousineau Forest Products, a construction, homebuilding and manufacturing company that employs 150 workers across its branches.

As one of the few national manufacturers for wooden gunstocks in a booming firearms market, Cousineau Wood Products is poised to expand and invest in new equipment and workers that will allow it to use local wood exclusively for its production, a goal vice president Brody Cousineau calls “stump to stock.”

“Taking it right from the woods to the finished product is the long-term goal,” Cousineau said, in an interview after the tour.

The company’s rapid growth is regarded as a shining light in an area where traditional wood product manufacturing is waning. Madison Paper, one of the area’s larger employers, announced earlier this month that it would shut down in May, throwing more than 200 employees out of work.

Sen. Rod Whittemore, a Republican who represents much of Somerset County, said Madison Paper decided that it could manufacture its product more cheaply elsewhere.

“The way I look at it, they made that decision. They are leaving. That is a dead horse,” Whittemore said. “I made the decision, let’s look for a live horse we can hop on.”

He already had been in touch with Cousineau about the company’s expansion plans, and within hours of learning about the Madison mill closure, he was on the phone with Gov. Paul LePage asking what assistance the state could provide for the company, Whittemore said.

“He obviously has the space. He has a demand for the product and he has potential to grow on what he is doing here now. All he needs is the proper financing and he can move forward,” Whittemore said.

“He’s poised for expansion. He’s ripe for it,” he added.

LePage was scheduled to attend the tour and meeting Friday, but treacherous road conditions brought on by an ice storm Friday morning prevented him from traveling to Anson.

“We regret we were unable to be there this morning. However, the Governor is planning to visit Cousineau’s as early as next week,” press secretary Adrienne Bennett said in an email Friday.

To make its high-end rifle gunstocks, Cousineau processes thin sheets of birch wood by coating the sheets, known as veneers, with plastic, then compressing them together with heat and pressure to create a lightweight, durable stock. To make pistol and knife grips, the veneers are impregnated with resin to sturdy it.

The company also produces heavier solid birch gunstocks and bleacher seating. Last year, it produced about 14,000 stocks a week.

About 75 percent of the wood the company uses comes from Maine, but the veneer is imported from countries as far away as Russia and Finland. The aim of an expansion would be to install a sawmill and wood turning operation in the Anson plant so the company could produce its own veneers from locally sourced birch.

Depending on how fast his company is able to expand, Cousineau Wood Products could hire as few as five new employees or up to 60, Brody Cousineau said. The company is family-owned and its leadership includes Brody’s father, Randy Cousineau, and sister Brandi Cousineau Hau.

The scale and speed of the expansion will depend on whether the company can secure financial assistance from the state, Brody Cousineau said Friday.

“We’ve got a great opportunity, but we need some help with some capital projects to get the people here to work,” he said.

The company already has used federal Community Development Block Grants to hire employees for its expansion, first in 2009 with a $60,000 grant and then in 2013 with a grant of $151,000.

While the closure of Madison Paper is undoubtedly an economic blow to the region, it does open a door for the company to hire experienced manufacturing workers, Brody Cousineau said.

“We have markets for finished product, and with the Madison closure there are a lot of employees looking for work right now,” he said. “We would like to be able to capitalize on that and put them back to work.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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