Wood Business

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Optimism reigns

I have been around the forest products sector for more than 20 years and it’s still an industry that surprises and amazes me. But it’s not the latest high tech scanning gear or planers that operate at incredibly high speeds that captivate me – it’s the people who earn their livelihood from this industry.


November 30, 2011
By Bill Tice
I have been around the forest products sector for more than 20 years and it’s still an industry that surprises and amazes me.

 

By the time the hard copy of this issue of Canadian Wood Products hits the presses and the digital edition is on your computer monitor, I will have been in the editor’s seat for over three months. Even though much of the news during that time has been gloomy and many companies have dealt with production curtailments, permanent mill closures, declining prices, reduced sales and volatile foreign exchange rates, I have been quickly and refreshingly reminded of just how resilient the people who work in this industry are. Despite all of the challenges, many people are still optimistic about the future. They buckle down, adapt to the situation and work with whatever they have. This “do what it takes” attitude is one of the reasons this industry will survive today’s market conditions.

I saw this optimism almost immediately after taking on my new role as my computer’s inbox started to fill up with story ideas and notes from people in the sector welcoming me to my new position. Two of the e-mails were from Ontario, a province that has been hit harder than most by the global economic situation due to its manufacturing base. Both companies reported being busier than ever and invited me to visit. One is a panel mill; the other is a log homebuilder.  A quick phone call to an upbeat sawmiller near Algonquin Park and I had a road trip set up for April. In upcoming issues, you will be able to read about how these companies are surviving the markets, the products they produce and the people who work for them.

Last month, I ventured into central Alberta for a visit to Sundance Forest Industries near Edson. It was a similar experience, and although in the operations manager’s words, “this business is not for the weak of heart in the good times, never mind the bad,” they are successfully forging ahead and employing 275 people on three shifts per day. You can read about Sundance starting on page 7.

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I have also had long conversations with many of my industry colleagues. From staffers at national to provincial associations, to employees of big companies to small operators, and equipment sales people to technical advisors, they all know it’s tough out there, but for the most part they are not jumping ship. They are patiently waiting and watching the housing start numbers coming out of the United States, as everyone knows when they bottom out and start to rebound, it will be the start of our industry’s climb back up from rock bottom. Almost every one of them speaks with confidence about the future, albeit they realize that future may be a year or more away.

And then there’s biomass. This offshoot from the forest industry could be the magic bullet if done right. Canadian companies are excited about the possibility of using slash and other forest residuals, along with sawmill waste, to generate power. Although sawmills in Williams Lake, B.C. have been feeding a bio energy plant in that city for over a decade, we’re still a long way from having cellulose meet the needs of the hungry power grid on a large scale basis. There is, however, optimism for this new and green product, and many companies and their employees are busy making plans, writing proposals, and developing ideas. You can find more on this in our sister publication, Canadian Biomass – which is inserted inside this magazine for those of you who have renewed your subscription within the past two years, or if you are reading this on-line, is available by clicking on the Canadian Biomass link on the home page.

There’s no question that we will emerge from this current downturn. The question is when and in what form. The face of the industry will be changed, as some companies won’t survive. But one thing I have personally rediscovered by talking with people out there over the past few months is something I have known deep down for the entire time I have worked in this industry – it is made up of survivors who will show what they are made of, and will emerge from this stronger.

 

Bill Tice, Editor
btice@annexweb.com


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