After a two year hiatus, the I-90 Aerospace Corridor Conference & Expo is returning to the Coeur d’Alene Resort in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on May 31-June 1. This event, the premier aerospace-focused conference in the Inland Northwest, will feature a full line up of great industry speakers, a trade show featuring a wide cross-section of suppliers and service providers, B2B meetings with OEMs and Tier 1 and 2 suppliers, and ample networking opportunities.

To see all the participation options visit the event website.

Less than a year after buying shuttered Katerra plant, manufacturer looks to increase production

This article first appeared in the Spokane Journal of Business on May 19th, 2022. By Karina Elias.

Less than a year after buying the shuttered Katerra plant in Spokane Valley, Mercer Mass Timber LLC plans to invest $50 million in capital projects at the cross-laminated timber factory over the next two years.

The timber-products company has hired 80% of previous Katerra employees at the site since opening last fall. Starting in July, the plant, which currently has 50 employees, will hire roughly 30 additional people to run a second shift, says Jason Herman, plant manager for Mercer Mass Timber.

Envisioned capital projects include expanding the facility, adding new equipment lines, and the addition of a new product line, including glue-laminated structural components, or “glulam.”

Mercer’s main product, cross-laminated timber, or CLT, consists of several layers of kiln-dried lumber boards that are stacked in alternating directions, bonded with structural adhesives, and pressed to form a solid, straight, rectangular panel. Those wood panels are then cut to size and include door and window openings.

Glulam is constructed with all wood layers oriented in the same direction and is ideally used as structural support such as columns and beams.

About two-thirds of a mass timber building is made up of CLT and one-third is glulam, explains Herman. The facility is currently under the process of being qualified for glulam, with production most likely starting sometime in the summer.

“We’re ramping up right now,” says Herman. “With Mercer, we want to add glulam because it’s what mass timber needs.”

Mercer Mass Timber LLC is a subsidiary of the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Mercer International Inc., a global producer of market pulp and solid wood products with mills in Canada, Germany, and Australia.

Established in 1968, Mercer has over 50 years of experience operating in wood manufacturing.

The Spokane Valley CLT plant, located at 19202 E. Garland, is the company’s first factory in the U.S. and its first foray into the mass timber industry.

Mercer acquired the 253,000-square-foot facility—one of the largest CLT production facilities in North America—last summer for $50 million from Katerra Inc., which filed for bankruptcy in June and laid off 63 employees in Spokane Valley.

“We’re really excited that this landed in the right place,” says Todd Beyreuther, director of product for Mercer Mass Timber. “It would have been sad to see it go down.”

Beyreuther and Herman both were involved in the original planning and launch of the facility under Katerra, which began production in 2018. In total, the facility cost $180 million to build, says Herman.

The CLT manufacturing facility is on 37 acres of land at 19202 E. Garland, in northeast Spokane Valley.

When Mercer acquired the plant last August, the company stated in a press release that the plant represents 30% of the current North American mass timber manufacturing capacity and has a capacity to supply about 13 million square feet of five-ply panels, or about 140,000 cubic meters of yearly production.

Herman says that the plant is focused on getting into full production, and a second shift is necessary to do so.

While Katerra sought to be a one-stop-shop CLT company that included building design, manufacturing, and on-site construction, Herman says that Mercer is just focused on manufacturing.

“It’s not fully integrated from design to manufacturing to construction,” says Herman. “What’s different is we are a standalone manufacturing plant.”

The plant receives daily requests for product information and sends out 20 to 30 quotes a week, he says. It’s currently working on five projects from across the country.

Projects are made to customer specifications, says Beyreuther. Mercer works with architects, engineers, and designers to integrate wiring and plumbing systems for each project design. The company has also hired a lead from England, Nick Milestone, who, along with his team, will work with architects and engineers as they construct the buildings.

Herman declines to share annual revenue projections.

He says that lumber makes up 75% of product costs. He adds that demand is growing for mass timber, not just for buildings, but also homes, bridges, barges, and other types of structures.

In the U.S., 1,384 multifamily, commercial, or institutional mass timber projects had been built or were in design as of March, according to WoodWorks, a Washington D.C. organization that provides free project support and education resources for wood-frame and mass timber buildings and projects.

Beyreuther says that access to timber in Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia is one factor in the original decision to locate the plant in the Spokane area.

Another factor is tied to the plant’s continuing partnership with Washington State University and its Composite Materials and Engineering Center, where Beyreuther was a researcher when he was approached by investors from Katerra, in 2016, about starting a mass timber facility.

CMEC is an accredited lab where Mercer keeps equipment. Mercer’s teams are in constant collaboration with the experts at CMEC working on product prototypes, says Beyreuther.

“All the mass timber experts are here, that’s our role. It’s good to be under a good parent company,” he says.

This article first appeared in the Journal of Business on April 21, 20211. by Virginia Thomas

While funding opportunities have slowed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spokane’s startup community remains active, bolstered by employees located throughout the U.S. and events that bring attention to new companies, some market observers here say.

According to information from proprietary market data software subscription platform PitchBook, more than $51.6 million went to startups in the Spokane area in 2021. That’s less than half the $107.6 million in funding startups here received in 2020.

Of those funds committed in 2021, nearly half—$25.3 million—was venture funding.

Steve Rector, chief investment officer at Spokane-based Cowles Ventures LLC, says that while there’s no shortage of startups to fund, cash flow to investments has slowed as investors have been more hesitant to part with their money while the pandemic persisted through a second year.

“People are preserving cash in some of the uncertainty,” Rector says. “I was a little more protective during the last 18 to 24 months, just until we got a better handle on where things were going.”

Cowles Ventures is the venture-capital arm of Cowles Co., which owns the Journal of Business through its subsidiary, Northwest Business Press Inc.

Tom Simpson, managing member of angel fund Kick-Start, president of the Spokane Angel Alliance, and president and CEO of Ignite Northwest, says that data from Pitchbook should be taken with a grain of salt.

“PitchBook data is not complete because you don’t have everything disclosed,” Simpson says. “I would be careful about drawing a meaningful conclusion and saying the Spokane region suddenly is less interesting because of a decline.”

According to PitchBook data, startups that received the greatest amount of funds in 2021 include:

•Coeur d’Alene-based additive manufacturer Continuous Composites Inc., which received $18 million in venture funding in June.

•Coeur d’Alene-based cyber security company Gravwell Inc., which raised about $7 million total from two seed funding rounds in 2021.

•Spokane Valley-based real estate startup Doorsey Inc., which raised $4.1 million in seed funding in November.

Simpson says it’s important to note the number of new startups receiving investments versus the number of follow-on investments.

In 2021, four new startups – Vega Cloud Inc., Doorsey Inc., Treasury4 Inc., and Ruumr Inc. – received funding. No new startups received funding in 2020, according to PitchBook data.

Rector says Cowles Ventures invested in two new companies in 2021—Spokane-based fintech software startup Treasury4 Inc. and Vega Cloud, which is a Liberty Lake-based software maker.

So far in 2022, investors have infused more than $7.7 million into local startups, according to PitchBook. Most of that came from a $7 million venture funding round to Spokane-based spice maker Spiceology Inc. from San Francisco-based venture capital firm Jackson Square Ventures and other undisclosed investors.

Rector says investments in Spokane-area startups are likely to recover somewhat in 2022.

“Overall, in the markets and the venture space, we’ll probably see some upticks in ’22, just because we are getting out of some of the uncertainties that were clouding us in 2020 and 2021,” Rector says.

Simpson says future successful companies could be born from local startup events, which also maintain the momentum of the community.

Sparks Weekend, to be hosted this year by Ignite and LimeLyte Technology Group Inc. from April 29 to May 1 at the Catalyst Building, at 601 E. Riverside, provides new startups with resources to launch, Simpson says.

“It’s a three-day event where people with ideas for brand-new businesses present their ideas on Friday evening,” Simpson says.

About 40 presenters will be winnowed down to 10 finalists, who will be paired with mentors to work on creating a minimum viable product, conducting market research, and refining their busines model. On Sunday, competitors will present their final plans to a panel of judges. One winner will receive $50,000 in investment capital.

“That’s something that’s been very fruitful in the ecosystem here in Spokane,” Simpson says. “For example, Spiceology was the winner of a predecessor to Sparks Weekend, which was called Startup Spokane. Kaspien, several years ago, was the product of the same business plan competition.”

Spokane Valley-based e-commerce company Kaspien Holdings Inc. is an example of a company that has benefitted from some effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Simpson says. It has increased employee numbers by hiring people to work remotely. Other startups in the Spokane area also are likely to grow this way, Simpson says.

“The broader acceptance of remote work has really helped Spokane,” Simpson says. “In the past, sometimes Spokane was at a disadvantage for recruiting. Now, we can recruit people to work for emerging Spokane companies, though the workers may live elsewhere. It’s benefitting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Spokane in two ways—more talent coming in, and the ability to attract a broader base of talent, though the workers might not live in Spokane.”

Ryan Arnold, director of regional entrepreneurial strategy at North Idaho College and co-manager of the Northwest Entrepreneur Competition, says entrepreneurial events are a good way for startups to find funding and other resources.

At the Northwest Entrepreneur Competition, hosted virtually on April 13 by North Idaho College and Spokane’s University District, more than 50 student teams competed for a total of about $44,000 in awards.

In addition to funding and feedback from judges, such events provide networking opportunities. Arnold says many entrepreneurs have a small network or none at all.

“Events like these oftentimes are a sort of clearinghouse for that, where they’re not only competing, but they’re meeting new people, they’re meeting their own peers that are going through the same issues, and they’re building their own entrepreneurial network,” Arnold says.

The Northwest Entrepreneur Competition has been hosted by North Idaho College annually for about 15 years, Arnold says. In that time, the entrepreneurial ecosystem here has flourished, he says.

“What we’ve found over time is that Spokane as a region has gotten more complex as far as the ecosystem goes,” he says. “We’re doing a good job of cooperating across state lines. The ecosystem is starting to work together a lot better, more cooperatively.”

Even before the Northwest Entrepreneur Competition came along, the startup community here was connecting higher education institutions with startup investment opportunities.

“You see this in the building growth of Spokane’s University District, for instance—the physical form of these spaces and places next to the downtown core,” Arnold says. “We were trying to attract talent and resources. But now, that talent and resource is here. Those buildings and spaces are here. With that comes the opportunity to just keep building and growing.”

Arnold says startups in the health sciences, aerospace, and advanced manufacturing sectors in particular have seen significant growth here.

Rector says Spokane startups have been receiving more attention from investors based outside of the Inland Northwest.

“We’re attracting some good, strong attention nationally with some of the companies that were started here,” Rector says. “I’ve got a couple of different venture groups in the Bay Area and a couple in the Seattle area that are much more inquisitive as to what we’re doing over here.”

This is a press release from Greater Spokane Inc., released on

(SPOKANE, Wash.) – The Washington State Department of Commerce has awarded a $500,000 Innovation Cluster Accelerator grant to Evergreen Bioscience Innovation (Evergreen Bio) to build a bioscience innovation cluster in the Spokane region. The successful team is led by Greater Spokane Inc. in partnership with SP3NW. Washington’s Innovation Cluster Accelerator is one portion of work supported by a $15 million CARES Act Investment by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.

The grant dollars will grow an industry-led business development organization and drive initiatives to build a world-class health and life science contract service industry in the region. Evergreen Bio’s mission is to make the Mountain Northwest and Washington State a magnet for companies providing and consuming expert life and health science contract research, development, and manufacturing services. They will do this by promoting industry “co-opetition,” prioritizing projects to address industry needs, and acquiring, developing, and retaining top talent.

Multiple organizations and key champions have been instrumental in the success of this award, including SP3NW, Katrina Rogers Consulting, Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County, Clear Solutions Biomedical, VectorPoint Ventures, Johnston Engineering, and Alturas Analytics/Needham Scientific.

“This is a very exciting opportunity that is building on a lot of the community’s great work. Evergreen Bio is what comes next from VISION 2030, the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, SP3NW, and new investments from Jubilant HollisterStier and Selkirk Pharma. Contract services across the region has been identified as a gap and Evergreen Bio can lead the economic advantage of local supply chain sourcing for pharmaceutical and medical device contract services companies. We will have the opportunity to catapult our community into one of the leaders in life science services,” said Stacia Rasmussen, Health & Life Science Business Development Manager of Greater Spokane Inc.

Evergreen Bio is focusing on five key initiatives to promote bioscience innovation including a Thriving Industry, Total Mountain Northwest Supply Chain, Global Entrepreneurship Hub, 21st Century Talent, and a World-Class Cluster.  Evergreen Bio will be the home for synergistic regional initiatives across these focus areas.

“Growing life sciences in Spokane requires a strong entrepreneurial community supported by financial opportunities. SP3NW is proud to be a part of the team bringing Evergreen Bio into existence. We already have strong interest from the private sector, entrepreneurs, finance, government, and education from current work with parallel aims of the FIRE grant programs. The grant will give us the ability to grow on this success,” said Michaele Armstrong, Associate Director of SP3NW.

About the Evergreen Bioscience Innovation

Evergreen Bioscience Innovation (Evergreen Bio) is a corporate industry-led, member-based organization that includes partners from the five economic segments of government, capital, academics, entrepreneur, and corporate.  The mission of Evergreen Bio is to make the Mountain Northwest and Washington State a magnet for companies providing and consuming expert life and health science contract research, contract development, and contract manufacturing services of medicines and medical devices, by enhancing workforce development and services to pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Evergreen Bio’s purpose is to develop and promote collaborative relationships facilitating regional business growth by prioritizing and assisting in funding projects that increase our collective value as an integrated biosciences supply chain, which will expand name recognition and awareness of contract services provided within our region.

About Greater Spokane Inc.

Greater Spokane Inc. (GSI) is the Spokane region’s business development organization. GSI creates the place where organizations come together to advocate for the region, drive strategic economic growth, and champion a talented workforce. GSI is funded through a combination of private and public investment, including over 800 private-sector members; Spokane County; Washington State Department of Commerce; and the cities of Spokane, Spokane Valley, Cheney, Deer Park, Liberty Lake, Airway Heights, Medical Lake, Millwood, Newport, and the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. For more information visit GreaterSpokane.org.

About SP3NW and the FIRE grant programs

SP3NW is an early-stage, life sciences incubator located in the University District of Spokane. In alignment with the land grant mission of WSU, SP3NW supports the bench-to-business and business-to-consumer paradigm. Through the four programs of our EDA-supported Flexible Infrastructure for Resilient Entrepreneurship (FIRE), we help to grow companies with innovative new products across Washington, Idaho, and Montana. For more information visit sp3nw.org.

The Idaho Manufacturing Alliance (IMA) has released their 2021 Manufacturing Economic Impact Report for the State of Idaho.

This is a report of the economic footprint of Idaho’s manufacturing sector for the year 2020. The sponsor is the Idaho Manufacturing Alliance and authored by the Vandal Impact Center. The student authors are Jacob Spence, Christopher Giddings, Josh Gehring, and Keegan Opdahl. The faculty advisor is Steven Peterson, who has conducted over 150 studies on nearly every Idaho industry in his career1. The study was completed in November 2021.

IMA partners with the University of Idaho and Alturas to fulfill a long-time organizational goal of formally highlighting how important manufacturing is to the Idaho economy. IMA’s three main activities are to connect, support and promote manufacturing.

Download full report here.

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