Building the Capacity of the Region’s Forest Harvesting Industry to Respond to Current and Forecasted Business Opportunities
On Thursday July 13, 2017, The Mattawa-Bonfield Economic Development Corporation announced that International Wood Industries (IWI), an Ontario based company is planning to invest approximately $140 million towards the construction of a new state- of -the- art mill facility on a 212-acre site in Bonfield. The annual payroll to support an anticipated 90 full time jobs (one shift) is estimated to be $4.5million.
At a media conference held that day, IWI President Gary Medwid said the state-of-the-art facility will process both softwoods and hardwoods, producing lumber as well as value-added products such as tongue-and-groove decking, hardwood flooring and pre-packaged log homes. In addition, wood waste from the operation will be used on site to create pellets for home heating. He also noted that the operation will be a zero-emissions mill that will use by products to fuel itself. Pending the completion of a number of site studies and the acquisition of a mill license, construction of the facility is expected to begin in the Spring of 2018 and be operational in 2019.
According to harvesting businesses and regional Sustainable Forest License holders that have been contacted, the announcement of a new mill of this size will stimulate immediate growth within the harvesting area of the forest sector’s business community because the mill will require approximately 350,000 cubic metres of hardwood and softwood annually. Harvesting companies have expressed concern that the local population is not prepared to respond to opportunities presented by growth in the forest sector.
In 2009, during a period of economic downturn in the sector and around the world, Tembec’s Mattawa sawmill, which had been idle since July 2008, announced its permanent closure. During the same period, Columbia Forest in Rutherglen closed its veneer mill eliminating 64 full time jobs. Together these two mills when they were fully operational employed between 500 – 600 people. In 2016, Columbia Forest resumed operations and now employs approximately 70 persons. Since 2009, there have been a number of new forestry business startup attempts at the former Tembec sawmill facility.
It has been nearly a decade since the economic crisis which left many regional changes in its wake. The labour force of 2009 has aged. Many have relocated and skills amongst those who remain are outdated. Current employers, mills and harvesting businesses across Northeastern Ontario contacted since IWI made their plans known indicate that there is no interest amongst the working age population in pursuing job opportunities within the harvesting field, that the cost to train/retrain new employees and that the capital needs to grow or start a harvesting business today are prohibitive.
If measures are taken to address the shortage of skilled workers to meet the projected demand, IWI, other mills and the industry in general stands to benefit. It is conceivable that the new mill would draw its wood supply from the five Forest Management Units in the region. Increased harvest levels would mean financial benefits to the current SFL holders who could negotiate new business to business arrangements with a new mill. Businesses who harvest the forests have an opportunity to grow and with that growth, new employment opportunities can be realized.
Sustainable Forest License holders have formally expressed a keen interest in negotiating business to business agreements with a new mill but have also voiced their concern about the lack of an available and trained workforce to support the harvesting companies’ current AND future business needs. Their expressed concerns provide the basis for this study.
It was determined that an effort was needed to formally approach harvesting companies who operate out of the five neighboring Crown forests identified as the forests that will primarily supply the wood to feed the new mill in the Mattawa-Bonfield region to:
- identify the current and forecasted (2-5 years) employment and business growth opportunities within the forestry sector’s harvesting businesses
- identify what are their current and forecasted human resource, skills development and training requirements
- identify what other barriers to business entry or expansion exist for operating and potentially new harvesting businesses
- identify the employment and business support programs; forestry sector education, training and skills development programs and services currently available within the district,
- as well as the program and service gaps within the district to support the needs identified by the harvesting business community
- through consultation with education, industry and First Nation communities within the area, make recommendations for how to better ensure the availability of a trained, qualified labour force to meet the current and forecasted needs of the region’s harvesting business community.
We would be remiss to not thank the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development for providing the funds to carry out this project, which has a very short timeline (mid-Sept to end of Oct) with a final report due to the funder by the first week of November 2017.
A very special thank you goes out to the sector stakeholders from throughout the five forest management areas (mills, harvesting businesses, forest management associations, training and education institutions) who are actively participating in this project, by sharing their knowledge and expertise in the design of the sector survey, reviewing draft reports and contributing to the final report’s recommendations. We look forward to moving the recommendations to action so that the Mattawa-Bonfield region, one with historical and deep roots in the forestry sector can become more diversified, prosperous and once again vibrant.
Stay tuned for more information about the project as it progresses!
Meegwetch, Merci, Thank You!