U.S. Sen. Susan Collins speaks to an employee at the LP Houlton facility Wednesday afternoon during a tour of the company's new SmartSide line of products. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

NEW LIMERICK, Maine — Citing the strong work ethic of local people, Louisiana-Pacific officials said Wednesday that Aroostook County was a natural location for its plant to make a new signature line of products.

LP Houlton officials unveiled its $150 million renovation to its plant for a group of business leaders, as well as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Gov. Janet Mills.

LP Building Solutions first announced its expansion of the LP Houlton facility in February 2021. In May, the company said it completed the conversion, resulting in the first LP Houlton production of its SmartSide Trim and Siding. It is the first plant on the East Coast to manufacture the product for Louisiana-Pacific.

Louisiana Pacific Houlton celebrated the opening of its new $150 million production expansion at its New Limerick facility Wednesday afternoon with a special ceremony. Pressing the button to restart the mill are, from left, U.S. Sen Susan Collins, LP CEO Brad Southern and Maine Gov. Janet Mills. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

The Louisiana-Pacific plant in New Limerick had generated countless slabs of oriented strand board — a type of engineered wood similar to particle board — during its 40-plus years of operation in Aroostook County. But changes in the industry prompted the company to alter its focus to an entirely new product.

LP SmartSide Trim and Siding is engineered wood strand technology that protects against hail, wind, moisture, fungal decay and termites. It is one of the most durable house siding solutions on the market, the company said.

The conversion to manufacturing the new product will keep the company viable in a changing economy and provide employment for approximately 160 people in the area.

“There were three facilities that were in the running,” LP CEO Brad Southern said. “Houlton became the lead option for us for a number of reasons. We would not be here today without the staunch support of the workforce here.”

The availability of aspen lumber needed to produce the engineered materials, as well as the distribution via railway of the product were also key reasons for choosing Aroostook County, he said.

Watching how the siding is made at the LP Houlton plant Wednesday afternoon is Maine Gov. Janet Mills. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

The expansion will produce approximately 220 million square feet of LP’s signature product per year, according to plant manager Nathan Whitney. That total is enough to support the construction of about 100,000 homes annually.

In fact, demand for the new product is so high, there is already a growing waiting list.

“For decades, workers at LP Houlton have produced Maine-made building materials used in homes across the nation and around the world,” Mills said. “LP Houlton’s conversion will continue that proud legacy with the manufacture of LP’s signature building products, all while benefiting the local supply chain.”

LP’s expansion is expected to result in the need for approximately 30 percent additional wood fiber to meet capacity, which will benefit loggers, truckers and other stakeholders across Maine’s forest products industry.

“I am so excited by what I saw today,” Collins said. “This investment by Louisiana Pacific will not only secure the jobs now but allow for additional employees in the future. In addition, the mill has stepped up its operations and is now working 24/7, and that is good news for the economy of this region.”

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (center) and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (right) take a tour of the new expansion at the LP Houlton facility Wednesday afternoon. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Prior to the conversion, the mill operated five days a week, but with the changeover it will be in production 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Plant officials also estimate that there will be a 30 percent increase in log usage, with the majority of the lumber coming from within 60 miles of the plant.

Whitney said the conversion definitely stabilized the company’s workforce.

“If you think about it, it’s not just the 160 employees and their families … it’s the log suppliers, the local company we buy tires from, right down to the pizza place down the street that counts on our business,” he said.