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Staying Afloat 

We’ve been through the worst recession since the great depression, but some Maine businesses have managed to navigate the rough economic seas.Thanks to some innovative ideas from the owner and workers, an Aroostook County business has managed to not only survive the recession, but may now be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.David Gordon, Owner Katahdin Cedar Homes: “It’s been a tough period for the whole industry. It hasn’t been a bed of roses for anybody whether fencing, housing, or any other part of the home industry, it’s really tough.”Gordon’s father started Katahdin Cedar Homes back in 1973.He’s been working here since 1977, and these have been some of the hardest times for the home building industry he’s seen. Gordon saw the economic climate declining and knew his company needed to focus on using all of its resources, that means using every bit of their cedar logs. “When we buy our trees, to us, each one looks like a gallon of gasoline,” Says Gordon. “If you throw part of that gallon of gasoline away your cost to drive each mile is going to go up.”To help supplement the cedar homes they build, workers here use logs that don’t make the cut for log homes and turn them in to cedar fence posts. When the log home industry went downhill, the cedar fencing has helped guide them through the storm. They’re now the largest cedar fence manufacturer in the Northeast United States, but after log homes and fencing they’re still not finished. “After that there’s a lot of pieces left over,” Said Gordon. “There’s little short pieces and crooked with knot holes and things like that and we make window boxes and play sets for children out of the little small stuff.”Gordon says business is looking up. He’s already working on ways to cut his costs to avoid layoffs in case of another downturn in the economy. About five years ago Gordon began making his mill more energy efficient, after being told by his insurance company he could no longer use wood stoves to heat the 17 buildings here, Gordon constructed a boiler. And by burning the mill waste, he produces more than enough heat to do the job. In fact he’s cut his heating expenses by 93%.Now his plan is go one step further by taking advantage of the potato industry in Aroostook County. He thinks he’s found a valuable use for the culled potatoes the farmers can’t sell. “You take those culled potatoes and you combine them with a really cheap source of heat, which is what I have now because my boiler burns mill waste, and you get alcohol,” Gordon Explained. ” And I hope next summer to hook my still up so it’s automatic like the boiler is….so I’ll be making about 110 gallons of alcohol a day and I only burn about 85 gallons of gasoline so between the boiler cutting my fossil fuel heating oil by 92 or 93%, and making the alcohol, I should be able to get pretty much off fossil fuels except for my big heavy forklifts.”To those that know him, gordon’s plans for an energy efficient mill are not surprising. he has a degree in agricultural and resource economics from the university of maine. He generates the 700 watts of electricity that power his house from a wind turbine on his front lawn, and the solar panels on his roof provide his hot water.Gordon says there’s one other thing that can help you navigate a recession. “I think to get through times like this you have to be willing to accept some risk.” Seeing that his cedar fencing business was growing rapidly he bought a mill in Ashland a little over a year ago. “And it’s a good thing that we did. Because with the fencing business the way that it is now we’re running a night shift.” Gordon says he works hard to keep his employees happy. Wendell Hersey has been here for 26 years. You might think he looks comfortable working with this machine. He should. He actually helped design it.For the folks who live and work around Oakfield, the innovation and business savvy of the people here at Katahdin Cedar Homes can be a benefit to the entire community. “When you’re a base industry like we are, when you’re a saw mill, it branches out to the truckers, and the pulp cutters, and the landowners,” Said Gordon. “A base industry has a multiplier effect probably of 6 or 7. For every job we have it probably supports 6 or 7 in the area.”Dave Gordon says his fencing business continues to grow and the activity for log homes is very active.