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Value-added industry key to growth in northwest (12/02)

Adding value to forest products is necessary for future growth and diversification of northwestern Ontario.

Adding value to forest products is necessary for future growth and diversification of northwestern Ontario. That was the central message delivered by a panel representing the government, education, and technology sectors at the Northwestern Ontario Forest Council’s (NOFC) “Value-added in Forest Products: Who Will Lead the Way?” conference in Thunder Bay on Nov.20.

“Ontario’s value-added wood products sector generates more sales, more exports and more jobs than the commodity woods sector does currently,” indicated Michael Power, chair of the Ontario Living Legacy Trust. “In fact, the value-added sector employs approximately three times as many as commodity product manufacturers. Unfortunately for the North, most of Ontario’s value-added wood products, which are exported to the U.S. market, are made in southern Ontario. This value-added manufacturing could be done up here, closer to wood resources.”

According to a recent report by the Living Legacy Trust, a $30-million fund was established by the Province of Ontario to invest in natural management projects in Northern Ontario. The value-added sector already employs approximately 37,000 people in Ontario, while another 1,000 businesses in Ontario are involved in value-added products.

“Our strategic report of Ontario’s solid wood value-added sector indicates that value-added wood products will play an increasingly important role in Ontario’s evolving forest industry,” he said. “The solid wood value-added report says Ontario’s forest industry is too focused on the production of wood for the commodity market...but there are many opportunities to diversify our value-added sector, and that diversification could enable us to create new jobs in the north.”

“Clearly, making better use of the wood being harvested by value- adding to final products is one of the best ways to ensure a future resource and community sustained across Northern Ontario,” he added. “Value-added manufacturing leads to diversity of our economy and strengthening of the North. It also allows us to add value to our current wood production process and increases the number of jobs here without putting more pressure on forestry.”

“Our primary role is to invest in opportunities to enhance sustainability resource management on Crown lands in Northern Ontario,” he concluded. “Many people believe a value-added wood products industry would help to alleviate the population drain and revitalize many Northern Ontario communities. The Living Legacy Trust is helping to build momentum for change. We have put strategic information in your hands.”

Power was just one of the members of the six-person panel that expressed their support for adding value to forest products. Also on the panel was the assistant deputy minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Mike Willick.

“A healthy and diverse forest-based economy contributes significantly to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of Canadian society; this is even more true in northwestern Ontario,” Willick said. “We recognize the importance of facilitating value-added opportunities in the province and we will continue to add value to forest, management systems and forest products.”

The mayor of Kenora, David Canfield, also expressed his views at the conference and presented a challenge to those in attendance.

“I believe if we begin the process of identifying value-added uses for all our forest products, then we can not only catch up to the Great Lake states in the production of value-added (products), but we could and should be able to pass them,” Canfield said. “We (in Kenora) are going to take the existing commodities we have and we are going to start building and remanufacturing for all these things. My challenge to you is catch us.”

“Everybody has the same opportunities,” Canfield concluded. “Everybody has certain commodities within their regional area. It is now up to you to take those commodities and find ways of remanufacturing.”

Jamie Lim, the mayor of Timmins, was also present on the panel. She took the opportunity to speak to demonstrate her unyielding support for Ontario’s forest industry and to pose a perplexing question to northerners.

“In Ontario, the forest industry employs 88,400 people directly resulting in 177,000 indirect jobs and contributes close to $1 billion to Ontario’s companies, second only to the automotive industry in southern Ontario,” Lim indicated. “About 50,000 of those jobs are in southern Ontario. Why is the value-added industry in southern Ontario? We have got to bring it back to the North. That is a challenge, but we have got to do it.”

“Ontario needs the forestry and mining to success,” Lim added. “Our region, our Northern Ontario, needs forestry and mining to remain competitive, innovative and viable. The value-added industry does create more industry and that is what the North needs. Now, more than ever before, the municipal governments, the forest industry and our community leaders must work together to recognize and celebrate our excellence and we must always remember wood works.”

“If northern communities are not ready to champion the forest industry. who will?, “ she asked. “Your municipal leaders, your municipal governments must work with you and they must lead the way.”

A representative form Forintek, Francois Julian, was also on the panel. He focused largely on his company and what kind of a role they could play in facilitating value-added development. The Quebec-based company conducts exploratory studies and supplies advice to other companies about projects at the secondary and tertiary levels of wood products.

The final member of the panel was Ian McCormack, president of the NOFC. He made it clear that the only way Northern Ontario can succeed in the value-added sector, or any other sector is by working together.

“If we are gong to achieve success in any sector of Northern Ontario, it really does need to be through partnerships of business and industry, community leadership, labour leadership, as well as educational leadership, because no one of these partners can go in alone in Northern Ontario.”