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Prepare for change, panel says (7/03)

By ANDREW WAREING NORTH BAY - Three leaders in Ontario’s northern economy have a simple message - the future is coming and it is time to change.


NORTH BAY - Three leaders in Ontario’s northern economy have a simple message - the future is coming and it is time to change.

On June 24, The Ontario Rural Council (TORC) held a conference at the Clarion Resort in North Bay on global influences and how the resource sector should be prepared to position itself for change. Approximately 40 people attended the conference.

Panelists included Waubetek Business Development Corp. partnership development advisor John Symington, Tembec’s business development manager for forest resource management Paul Krabbe and mine automation and robotics expert Dr. Greg Baiden of Laurentian University. The moderator for the event was Jeffrey Celentano, chief administrative officer for the City of North Bay.

The panelists indicated that Northern Ontario’s economy is coming under increased competition from around the world in a variety of sectors, especially in the region’s traditionally strong resource-based industries. Co-operation and innovation are keys to assuring Northern Ontario’s ability to function competitively in that world market.

“Primarily, what it comes down to is building structures within the community and looking at a regional approach,” says Symington. “Long gone are the days when we could afford to have communities competing against one another.

“It also means looking at yourself as part of a global market,” he says. “You can’t just think ‘What are my competitors doing on Manitoulin Island?’ You also have to think about what are they doing in Vancouver, in Berlin and elsewhere because we’re all impacted by it.”

Symington says it is important to remember that business is not going to just come to the door, but has to be actively sought. First Nations communities also have to be recognized and included in resource development because they have a stake both economically and culturally in the future of the resource sector.

Tembec Inc. is already operating in the global market and looking to future opportunities. Krabbe says forest resource companies have to prepare for increased lower-price competition from countries such as Russia, Brazil and Chile where there are large forest resources coupled with low monetary values, which threaten to undercut North American wood.

He says there are several projects planned in Russia and Europe over the next few years that will produce as much as 400 million board feet per year, outdoing the largest ones in Ontario by four times. Adding to this level of competition, the industry is also facing high costs for raw materials and for energy to operate its machinery.

There are a number of solutions for the industry, he says. Some include consolidation of operations and temporary shutdowns that are already being seen in the industry. On the other hand, Krabbe says that Tembec is doing a lot of research into new products and is ranked as the 12th company in Canada for top research and development of new products.

Krabbe says consumers are also concerned about the products they buy, which is why they’re pursuing forest certification for the forests they operate in.

“We’ve chosen to go with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification because it is well recognized by the consumer,” Krabbe says. “Consumers want to know that their products are coming from well managed forests.”