Russ Vaagen, a fourth-generation lumberman in northeastern Washington and vice president of Vaagen Brothers Lumber Co., pioneered the use of small-diameter timber in wood products manufacturing two decades ago.
Now he’s building the state of Washington’s first mass-timber production plant.
He announced the formation of Vaagen Timbers at this year’s International Mass Timber Conference in Portland. By this time next year, the Colville plant will be churning out cross-laminated timber and glue-laminated beams – the two primary mass timber building materials.
“This is the revitalization of the timber industry,” Vaagen said. “Mass timber allows us to do the right thing at the right time. It’s not a political deal at all. It’s a mix of science and social science.”
Mass timber is the future, he said. It has a lighter carbon footprint; is at least 25 percent faster to build with and requires 75 percent fewer workers on the active deck; comes from forests that are renewable and that, in many cases, need thinning to reduce the danger of wildfire and disease; holds great promise as affordable housing; and even increases homeowners’ health and well-being, according to several studies of wood’s biophilic attributes.
In fact, Vaagen believes in the power of mass timber to bridge the urban-rural divide. The world’s cities need homes for millions of new residents. Rural timber towns and businesses need the work to feed their families.
Vaagen hired innovators from outside the timber industry to help him launch Vaagen Timbers: a Wall Street analyst, a former politician, a financier.
“I’m always looking for the disrupter,” said Lupine Skelly, who spent a decade on Wall Street analyzing the fashion industry before joining Vaagen’s team. “Mass timber is that disrupter. It’s completely changing the way we’ve built for 75 years.”
State officials are picking up Vaagen’s rallying cry, and appropriated $5.5 million for a pilot project to build 20 elementary school classrooms from CLT. But because there was no mass-timber production plant in Washington, they had to go to Oregon for those first beams.
“There’s a gap right now, but we’re hoping to change that,” said Hilary Franz, Washington’s public lands commissioner during an appearance in Colville last week covered by the Spokesman-Review newspaper.
Here is reporter Becky Kramer’s more detailed look at Vaagen’s quest and how his home state is picking up the mass-timber rallying cry.