A proposal by the University of Maine to accelerate the growth of the forest bio-economy is one of 60 finalists announced this week by the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge.

The program is an effort to boost recovery from the pandemic and rebuild American communities.

The agency said its Build Back Better Regional Challenge “provides transformative investments — up to $100 million for each grantee — to develop and strengthen regional industry clusters across the country, all while embracing economic equity, creating good-paying jobs, and enhancing U.S. competitiveness globally.”

The 60 finalists, chosen from among 529 applicants nationwide, will compete in a second round in March to award about 25 regional coalitions up to $100 million for projects that “support an industry sector.” Each gets $500,000 soon to develop their proposals more thoroughly for the next round of judging.

The forest initiative application said it “represents an opportunity for rural, distressed communities in the Northeast who are among the hardest hit by the pandemic to build back better, cleaner, and greener through strategic investment building on the region’s oldest resource and a heritage industry transformed by the next generation of forest bio-products.”

One of its primary goals is to “pivot away from petroleum-based feedstocks and chemicals to bio-based, renewable products” that would spur economic activity in the many rural parts of Maine with timber prospects.

It “seeks to add nearly $4 billion in total economic impact to the Maine economy, and to build workforce pathways to fill an estimated 5,000 direct job openings over the next 15 years.”

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a news release that the Build Back Better Regional Challenge “aims to supercharge local economies and increase American competitiveness around the globe.”

“The outpouring of interest in this program shows the demand for the Build Back Better agenda and the desire to not only create good-paying jobs, but also strengthen our country’s economic resiliency for years down the road,” she said.

The Maine proposal, led by the University Maine, has partners that include the Maine Development Foundation, the Maine Forest Products Council, the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, the Maine Woodland Owners, Four Directions Development Corp., the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, Eastern Maine Development Corp., the Northern Maine Development Commission and the Maine Community College System.


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