Seeking to reshape the way northerners view their forest product industry is the topic of a report on the status of Ontario's value-added wood sector and the export opportunities that are available.
A consultant's study commissioned by the Living Legacy Trust (LLT) states there are three times as many jobs created in the value-added wood sector as are created in the traditional commodity products sector.
For struggling one-industry towns affected by lumber duties and volatile commodity prices, breaking the mould of being solely hewers of wood and extending themselves through partnerships into the more lucrative markets of making furniture, flooring and trusses may be the way to diversify and strengthen their economies.
"We have a good value-added set, but we can grow it further in the north," says Karan Aquino, executive director of LLT.
In their evaluation of the value-added sector, Jaakko Pöyry Consulting suggests it is critical that the province, primary wood producers and value-added manufacturers consider the concepts of a value chain - from primary resource companies through to end users.
As well, adopting cluster development would help the north compete and thrive against well-established producers from Europe and the U.S. working within the American home-building market.
With study in hand, LLT board members took to the road in late January and early February, staging a series of regional sessions from Kenora through to Huntsville.
It gave the forestry players an opportunity to ask questions about the report and provided some direction on ways to grow this underexploited sector.
Aquino says the first few feedback sessions generated keen interest in cultivating a distinctly regional strategy and developing some sort of leveraging opportunities involving industry, First Nations groups, government ministries and unions who want to learn how to work co-operatively, not competitively.
"(Working co-operatively) has been the overwhelming message," says Aquino during a phone interview prior to their Feb. 5 session in Timmins.
One ally in the northwest is Kenora Mayor Dave Canfield, a staunch value-added proponent, whose municipality is assembling a diversification strategy centred around a new $225-million mill.
"We've actually got everything to build anything right here," with dozens of dimensional lumber mills and a strand board plant in the region, says Canfield. "My intent is that we will become the value-added capital of the province, if not the country."
Rather than lament job losses from cutbacks at Abitibi-Consolidated, Canadian Pacific Railway and some government services, the city has set an ambitious goal of creating 1,000 new manufacturing jobs within the next 10 years through value-added industries.
The cornerstone of their optimism is Weyerhaeuser's TimberStrand mill set to open in October, bringing with it about 400 mill and woodlands jobs.
The mill is the anchor tenant of their industrial park development and the city is investigating what complementary industries can be built around it.
They have also fostered better relationships with the Treaty 3 First Nations and neighbouring towns encouraging them to talk freely about difficulties they face with upper levels of government and what collective economic development opportunities may be open to them.
"Now it's a matter of putting our heads together and finding some of these markets and (determining) what we should be producing," Canfield says.
"The momentum is going, and we plan to keep it going."
The value-added concept is obviously not a new one, Aquino acknowledges, but in the past there has been little leadership to advance the idea.
"There's lots of old reports...that are similar to ours and nothing's ever happened," Aquino says.
"We don't want this one to be piled on top of the rest of them. Our thinking is to get the information out in the heads and hands of the people to whom this has real meaning."
The Living Legacy Trust was spun off from the Ontario government's Lands for Life process and is armed with a $30-million fund to support better natural resource management of forestry, fish and wildlife resources on public lands. They are operating under a five-year term.
Once the feedback is gathered and distilled by the board, they will be putting their final report forward to the ministers of northern development and mines, economic development and trade, natural resources and education.
The board was scheduled to make a Feb. 20 presentation to a government deputy minister's committee on the business climate.
At the very least, she says, they hope their report and findings can help some manufacturers in securing some venture or flow capital for value-added projects.