Many distinguished representatives from across the North gathered to express their views, concerns, and hopes for the future of their forest industry at the Northwestern Ontario Forest Council’s (NOFC) conference in Thunder Bay on Nov. 20. One of those people was Bill Lees, of William L. Lees and Associates Ltd. Lees outlined the economic contribution of the forest industry to northwestern Ontario.
“It is very obvious across this province and across this region that this part of the province is very heavily dependent on the forest industry for its economic welfare,” Lees said. “We have to find ways to produce new jobs and e-commerce in our region, and given the fact that our region contains 45 per cent the total provincial forest production industries, it certainly makes a lot of sense to look at the merits and feasibility of expanding secondary manufacturing or value-added possibilities.”
“Obviously, developing the value-added remanufacturing opportunities in some sort of symbiotic relationship with the primary industry could lead to the strengthening of the regional economy,” Lees added. “But, if we do not make efforts and are not successful in efforts to diversify the economy, we will have further population out-migration.”
Ultimately, it is his belief that the forest industry will continue to be the single, most important economic sector in the region’s economy.
The mayor of Thunder Bay, Ken Boshcoff, also expressed his views.
“We are all here because we believe in the potential of Northern Ontario,” said Boshcoff. “We have all been working very hard to ensure its growth and strengthening of economic base and this is a chance for us to make these representations, learn from each other and see what we can do to make that even stronger.”
“Because of the pace of change that is happening in our economic sectors and the international things happening with the softwood lumber (trade issue), all of these things come upon us as tidal waves,” Boshcoff added. “But we, as northerners, have got to stay mobilized and organized.”
The manager of Longlac Wood Industries, Jamie McPherson, was one of the panelists at the conference. His company owns a mill, which has been operating in the Longlac region of northwestern Ontario for over 30 years. It specializes in a composite panel called Longlac Multi-Core, which combines the benefits of a random waferboard core with aspen veneers overlaid with specialty hardwoods. The company has also recently been doing work on a product called DriCore, which allows for an easy-to-install moisture management system for basements.
Also on the panel was the president of Buhler Furniture, Doug Buhler.
The company is a residential case-goods manufacturer, using solid oak and maple substrates. The company also specializes in collector cabinet making. Buhler Furniture has been in the manufacturing business since 1933 and is already in its third generation of family leadership.
Steven Reid, the president and owner of Forest Insight Ltd. was also on the panel to discuss his success story. Operating a sawmill in Nova Scotia, the company produces a wide variety of products, but has recently been working on making hardwood flooring out of firewood.
Carson (Bud) McQuaker, the log yard and shipping co-ordinator for Voyageur Panel, and Dale Kaemingh, the manager of Manitou Forest Products in the Rainy River District, were also on hand to discuss their partnership success story. The two companies are currently working together. Voyageur Panel manufactures a wood product called rim board that is subsequently shipped to Manitou Forest Products for further processing.
Finally, Ken Oakley and Arvo Tyrvainen from Superior Thermowood and Virta Group were also part of the panel. At the conference, Tyrvainen explained that thermowood is a product, which has been researched commercially in Finland for four years now. Oakley subsequently explained how Superior Thermowood has begun to work with the new technology even though it is just a private company still in its startup phase.