The rapidly growing local wood products manufacturer SmartLam is expanding its operations beyond the Flathead Valley in a move that positions the company at the forefront of the global cross-laminated timber industry.
Despites its growing global dominance, however, Casey Malmquist is most excited about fortifying the company’s local roots.
Malmquist, president and general manager of SmartLam Technologies Group, which reorganized as SmartLam North America on Oct. 1, said the local growth of its Columbia Falls headquarters would mean additional jobs for the Flathead Valley.
“That was intentional and it’s really what I’m most excited about,” Malmquist said. “We started things here and we are relying on this geographic location to attract good talent as we round out the management side of things while moving forward with the expansion of our plant” at the old Weyerhaeuser site in Columbia Falls, which will be fully online by the first quarter of 2020.
SmartLam has also acquired a state-of-the-art facility in Dothan, Alabama, which was formerly IB XLam.
With the two operational production facilities in Montana and Alabama, SmartLam North America will immediately lead the industry with a combined capacity of 6 million cubic feet of annual CLT production, Malmquist said.
The company has also laid plans for additional CLT manufacturing facilities strategically located in “major wood baskets from coast to coast,” Malmquist said.
It aims to open three more locations by 2022, targeting new plants in the Northeast, on the West Coast and in the timber-rich Southeast.
The combined operational facilities will allow the company to produce over 17.2 million cubic feet of annual CLT production and will uniquely serve regional developers, builders, architects and engineers by offering all wood species and product certifications available under the current ANSI-APA/PRG 320 product standards, Malmquist said.
“We will be the largest producer of CLT in North America with the addition of the Alabama plant, and when we complete the other three plants we will be the largest producer of CLT globally,” Malmquist said, noting that a lot of moving parts came together to turn his dreams of expanding the company into a reality. “This has been seven years in the making and timing really is everything.”
Working with timber industry veterans Erik Munck and Brian Fehr, Malmquist said the trio combines decades of experience on both the manufacturing and marketing side of the equation.
The solidification of SmartLam’s plans in Columbia Falls and beyond is poised to ripple beyond town and greatly benefit the regional suppliers that provide SmartLam with the spruce, pine and fir used to make CLT, which consists of custom-cut wood panels stacked in alternating directions and bonded with adhesive.
In addition to being quick to install, CLT is also as sturdy as its heavy-duty counterparts. It also doesn’t pose the same negative environmental effects that are associated with steel and concrete, which figured prominently into Malmquist’s vision for an industry game-changer.
“I have two personal missions and visions with this,” Malmquist said. “One is on the environmental side. Any time we can replace concrete and steel, it’s making a positive impact on global climate change. How many times do you get an opportunity in your life to make that kind of impact? The other one is locally, creating an opportunity for high-quality jobs for people here in the Flathead.”
In 2012, Malmquist co-founded SmartLam in a warehouse attached to Western Building Center in Columbia Falls, becoming the nation’s first commercial manufacturer of CLT.
The company’s products have shipped to projects across North America, including Calgary, Arizona, North Carolina and Kansas. The company has continued to gain certifications that allow its materials to be incorporated into new projects, while state and federal regulations increasingly adapt to the product.
However, SmartLam’s remarkable rise created challenges as the local manufacturer outgrew its facility and required additional space to serve the growing demand.
“We are thrilled to launch SmartLam North America to evolve the role that mass timber products has in transforming the building industry, and to ensure that North America plays a dominant role in the movement,” Malmquist said. “Mass timber just got a whole lot stronger. Combining SmartLam’s historic presence in the mass timber market, an accomplished leader like Brian Fehr, and a significant investment in the enterprise, we welcome the work that needs to be done in solidifying North America’s place in the global mass timber market.”