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WholeTrees expanding with help from WEDC

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WholeTrees

Designed and built by WholeTrees Arcitecture & Structures, the Forest Scramble play area at Myrick Hixon EcoPark showcases the round-timber buliding materials that WholeTrees plans to manufacture in Grant County with help from a WEDC loan. 

WholeTrees Architecture and Structures, a design and construction firm started in Stoddard, has received a $170,000 state loan to launch a new product line.

The Technology Development Loan from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. will help finance the Madison-based company’s expansion into the commercial building materials market and could result in up to 76 new jobs over the next four years, according to the company.

WholeTrees has also been designated a Qualified New Business Venture, which makes investors eligible for a 25 percent tax credit on the amount they invest.

Founded in 2007 by La Crosse architect Roald Gundersen and his partner, Amelia Baxter, WholeTrees has grown into a business with up to 13 employees working at headquarters in Madison and a shop at the couple’s Stoddard farm.

The six-year loan at 6 percent interest, along with $1 million in USDA grants, will help finance a new mass-production facility in Muscoda, Wis., that should result in several new jobs this winter and will nearly double the workforce by the end of 2015, said Baxter, the company president.

While the firm still offers custom architectural design and construction services to showcase its products, Baxter said the primary focus is now in manufacturing columns, beams and trusses for the construction industry.

Using small-diameter trees — often to remove invasive species — that are too small to be milled, WholeTrees fabricates round-timber structural systems that are on par with steel in terms of strength — and cost.

“That’s the reason this is going to work,” Baxter said. “The value has already been created by the tree itself.”

The result, Baxter said, is healthier forests, less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and cost-effective buildings. In addition, the model offers a chance for local economic development.

Gundersen has employed “whole tree” designs for more than two decades, using unmilled timbers, often with branches intact. His portfolio includes private residences as well as institutional structures. WholeTrees structures can be seen at the Myrick Hixon EcoPark in La Crosse.

“The cutting edge of what this material can do is how we got this far,” Baxter said.

The company is currently supplying materials for a 50,000-square-foot commercial building in Madison.

Reed Hall, CEO of the quasi-public WEDC, praised the company for producing a cost-effective construction product while promoting healthy forest management.

“This is the type of innovation that we are encouraging with the Technology Development Loan Program,” Hall said, “which helps Wisconsin companies overcome some of the challenges that come with bringing new products or concepts to market.”

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