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April 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

Northern Alberta Forestry Show

Adding value to create jobs

The new Alberta Forest Products Association president says secondary manufacturing is essential to job creation in the province.

By Tony Kryzanowski

For the first time in its history, the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA) has named the owner of a secondary manufacturing business as its president, indicating the higher profile this industry sector has achieved lately. Now that Alberta’s forest resource is fully allocated, AFPA president Art Lemay says the province and the forest industry are looking more closely at ways to grow the province’s secondary or value-added wood products manufacturing sector. “I think that one of the things that secondary manufacturers bring to the table are entry level jobs,” says Lemay, who owns Westmark Products Ltd, which is located in the Acheson Industrial Park west of Edmonton. “We provide a lot of training and a lot of labour per thousand board feet of production compared to primary producers.”

With the province’s forest resource fully allocated, Alberta is looking at ways to grow the forest industry beyond primary production, such as sawmills, and into value-added, such as furniture production

The primary forest products industry has invested heavily in greater mechanization and automation, says Lemay, which in turn reduces the number of people it takes to operate a primary facility like a sawmill, pulp mill or oriented strand board plant. Westmark itself employs 46 people and is a longstanding producer of secondary wood products. It was established in 1966. The company began by producing hockey sticks and survey stakes and it eventually evolved into producing lathe, pallet stock, fence boards and box parts for the California fruit and vegetable market.

Today, the company has concentrated on three areas: reload services for other forest products producers; custom manufacturing; and production of survey stakes and lathe from SPF lumber. More specifically, the reload service consists of accepting shipments from customers who have purchased wood from area sawmills, ripping or trimming it to their specifications if necessary, storing the material, and redirecting it to purchasers. Lemay says the Alberta government’s recent release of its value-added strategy related to forest products is one indication that there is greater interest among government leaders to build this sector of the industry.

He is helping to provide input on what initiatives the government can put in place to assist the industry. Lemay is a member of the government of Alberta’s Secondary Manufacturing Advisory Committee. “We’re in the middle of doing a study with the Alberta government to see what the drivers and detractors will be for the secondary manufacturing industry for the next 10 to 15 years,” Lemay says. Two of the more immediate issues that are impacting growth and development within the secondary manufacturing sector are the ongoing softwood lumber dispute with the United States as well as the rising value of the Canadian dollar.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development Minister David Coutts recently said that the government is definitely interested in policies to develop a thriving secondary manufacturing industry in the province. He has accepted an invitation to give a luncheon address on the subject of Alberta’s new value-added forest product development strategy at this year’s Northern Alberta Forestry Show in Grande Prairie. Coutts emphasized that developing the secondary manufacturing sector won’t come at the expense of tinkering with the province’s current forest tenure system or with the 20 forest management agreements Alberta has with 17 primary forest product producers.

One area that the government is looking to potentially grow is developing markets for both higher end and lower grades of solid aspen wood products. Lemay says he tried to manufacture furniture grade aspen lumber over 25 years ago, but found that very little of Alberta’s aspen was of good enough quality to make the effort worthwhile. However, the major difference between when Lemay made his attempt and today is that a considerable volume of aspen is now harvested and stockpiled in oriented strand board and pulp manufacturing yards. When Lemay made the attempt to develop his furniture grade line, Alberta’s OSB industry and the massive Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries (Al-Pac) pulp mill hadn’t been built yet. Lemay says the recent salvage of the almost mothballed Weyerhaeuser dimension lumber mill in Grande Cache by C & C Wood Products is a very important development for the province’s secondary manufacturing sector.

It has attracted a new entry into Alberta’s industry and has continued to provide jobs. The fact that BC-based C & C has converted the mill to produce wood panel products is also important from the standpoint of evolution within the secondary manufacturing sector. “Whenever you can expand your production base using existing fibre, it’s beneficial to the province,” he says. There is no guarantee that a similar conversion would work in the soon to be closed dimension lumber sawmill in the community of Hines Creek, Lemay says. It would depend on what agreement the province has with sawmill owner Canfor regarding the ownership of timber allocated to the mill, and whether a conversion would be economically viable.

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