The “woodsmart” program is working to build on the city of Quesnel’s forest industry by focusing on adding secondary wood manufacturers.
By Jim Stirling
Quesnel is re-inventing itself as Canada's woodsmart city. “woodsmart” (with a lower case “w”) is more than a trademark and a catchy slogan. It reflects a co-ordinated approach to demonstrating Quesnel's competitive advantages as a place to locate a diversified range of secondary wood product manufacturers. The Quesnel Community and Economic Development Corporation in BC's North Cariboo region is driving the woodsmart initiative. The City of Quesnel subsidiary focuses on business retention and investment recruitment. The reality is that the forest industry is absolutely Quesnel's lifeblood, says Jim Savage, the corporation's executive director. Few—if any—other communities in North America have the concentration of primary wood product plants of Quesnel, he points out.
They produce dimension lumber (more than 700 million board feet of it a year), MDF, plywood, specialty wood products and pulp. These operations are all technologically sophisticated and globally competitive. They believe that industrial base is a springboard for building a culture around secondary wood product manufacture, declares Savage. The corporation's consultants, Peter Woodbridge & Associates and Metagroup Inc, concur.
They concluded the top five arenas of opportunity for Quesnel were in engineered wood products, MDF components, furniture components, housing components and low grade SPF re-manufacturing. What's going on in the primary forest industry plants and the forests sustaining them is woven into woodsmart. The plants' efficiencies mean they need fewer people to maintain and increase production. The employment base has to be rebuilt. Then there's the massive mountain pine beetle epidemic on Quesnel's doorstep.
Increased AACs designed to control and salvage beetle-infested timber raises concerns about sustainable harvest rates in the future. The flip side is, if there are huge volumes of timber out there, it could be made available to kick-start new secondary wood manufacturing and create employment. Savage says the primary plants create one job per 1,000 cubic metres of timber; a cabinetmaking plant, for example, sustains 23 jobs for that same volume. The Quesnel Community and Economic Development Corporation has researched the city's competitive cost factors, things like transport, land, construction and labour. "Quesnel is competitive with all other jurisdictions," affirms Savage. Quesnel has already made strides. It established BC's first value-added industrial park and it's home to the Wood Enterprise Centre. The Centre has evolved into a contract manufacturing facility and is largely self-sufficient, adds Savage.
It also offers value-added technology training, is a resource base and encourages hands-on wood product programs with Quesnel School District students. The Centre is a division of the Community Futures Development Corporation of the North Cariboo. Construction work has begun on an $11.6 million+ Quesnel campus for the University of Northern British Columbia and the College of New Caledonia. Phase two of that will include a Technical and Trades Training capability. "We view that as an absolutely essential step to expanding and diversifying the economy," says Savage. The woodsmart thrust also includes providing technology extension services, training and applied research capabilities. And, importantly, he adds, developing partnerships with First Nations groups to ensure their participation in woodsmart.
Savage sees three main categories of focus for woodsmart: the small company and “I have a dream” entrepreneurs who need a foothold to grow; companies employing 10 to 30 people which can benefit from Quesnel's cost attractiveness and wood product infrastructure; and woodsmart also wants to influence the majors about expanding or setting up shop in Quesnel.
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