By TOM GANNON
HEYFIELD’S Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH) has received a funding boost as it prepares to become the first company in Australia to manufacture engineered plantation floorboards.
State Agriculture and Regional Development Minister Mary-Anne Thomas was on the ground at ASH last week to make the $2.3 million grant announcement which will see 22 new jobs at the mill.
The funding will be split between ASH and three other businesses across Gippsland, Radial Timber in Yarram, Longwarry Sawmill and Brunt’s Harvesting in Orbost.
ASH has received $1.6 million to install a new manufacturing line to produce engineered flooring made from plantation shining gum and radiate pine.
The mill will also receive a new retail outlet to sell the floorboards and other existing products like staircase and furniture components.
Ms Thomas said she believes this grant, the first in a series, will push the timber industry in a new and positive direction, giving confidence in the longevity of the Victorian timber industry.
“What this investment shows is there is a great future for the timber industry here in Gippsland,” she said.
“What we are doing through the Victorian timber innovation fund is offering mills and those who are currently with VicForests the opportunity to come forward with their ideas as they seek to transition their businesses from native timber to plantation timber.”
Despite funding going to only four timber mills in Victoria, Ms Thomas said the offer for future funding was open to other businesses in the industry.
“This is an offer that is open to all those businesses that are currently have contracts or work closely with VicForests to take advantage of,” she said.
“This is part of an inevitable change in the direction of the timber industry, the Andrews’ government is committed to a strong, vibrant timber industry here in Victoria but it will be plantation based.”
The $2.3 million in grants are part of the Victorian Timber Innovation which aims to assist the timber industry as it manages a gradual transition away from native timber harvesting.
Radial Timber in Yarram will receive $397,000 to introduce a small log line and experiment with processing plantation timber, Longwarry Sawmill will receive $246,000 to use recycles and reclaimed timber to make new timber products and Brunt’s Harvesting in Orbost will receive $40,000 to undertake a feasibility study in to the transition.
ASH managing director Vince Hurley said the new direction for the timber mill, which is known for its timber staircases, came about when the company noticed an opening in the market for builders and interior designers wanting to match staircases in new developments to the floors.
“There was no one in Australia that made engineered flooring but it was a necessary part of the market for us,” he said.
“A lot of the time they match their joinery such as their stair cases to their floors, so given they’re matching it to that and our biggest market is staircases, we have to be in this market.”
Mr Hurley welcomed the grant, stating it had given the mill the ability to get the new project off the ground.
“What the grant did is it brought it forward,” he said.
“We wouldn’t have had the capital to do this tomorrow, we would’ve had to wait but now we’ve got the grant and we can go.”