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Win-Win Joint Venture 

A First Nations-Northwood project, Kyahwood F.P, provides badly needed jobs and skills training in tiny Moricetown, BC.

By Jim Stirling
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use. 

Leaping salmon is an eye-catching logo and the ideal metaphor for Kyahwood Forest Products JV. 

The plant's artistic symbol blends the spirit of traditions with a  promise for the futrre. The new $6 million re-manufacturing plant, recently cited as a 1997 Forest Renewal BC award winner for job creation is near the Moricetown Canvon on the Bulkley River in west-central British Columbia. The Wet'suwet'en Indians have fished salmon there for 10,000 years. The joint venture plant has rejuvenated Moriceiown through much-needed employment. The operation is also instilling pride and accomplishment in the community. as increasing volumes of value-added lumber with the stylized salmon on the wrap find acceptance in offshore markets. 

The partners in Kyahwood are the First Nation's people of Mooricetown (51 per cent)  and Northwood Pulp & Timber (49  cent).   It's taken much hard work by  many people to turn the concept into reality.  Just as salmon encounter obstacles on their homeward journey  up river so Kyahwood's progress has been blocked by the unforeseen.

"One of the frustrations is the world has changed dramatically since planning for the plant started. Lumber prices, the US quota and the other problems the forest industry is dealing with today have impacted the ideas that were so bright and promising in 1995 and 1996. So there's been a lot of new variations to the original plans," explains Terrv La Lon-Ul-1, Kyahwood's general manager. 

The plant's three primary breakdown lines of finger jointing, multi-saw trimming and planer/profile were envisaged to produce wood products for the North American market. "This has had to change because the US quota puts limitations on the flexibility of doing all these programs," adds La Londe.  (Kyahwood's quota was set extremely low because it's a new plant and Kyahwood and Northwood are working to resolve the problem). 

But like the salmon, Kyahwood is finding ways to reach its goals, "We're working very extensively with our sales arm, Norbord (and Tim Unruh, Northwood's manager for product development) to develop customers and markets in Japan. As a result, Kyahwood's finger- jointed studs - called Mabashira by the Japanese - are gaining a foothold in the large traditional home market. La Londe spent 24 years with Slocan's Quesnel division where he worked extensively in the Japanese home component market. "That's part of the reason why I'm here," he adds. "Now we're working to try and fit programs into our operation that allow some more flexibility to develop product for offshore markets, primarily Japan." The people of Moricetown operated a small sawmill prior to the joint venture. (The salmon symbol was developed in Moricetown for the original mill by Brian Dennis. Design for Kyahwood's lumber wrap was by Northwood's Denise Marcotte). 

But by mid-1993, Kyah Forest Products was in trouble and unable to secure a reliable timber supply. The mill was a major employer and its closure in 1994 left a gaping hole in the community of 750 people. Northwood had developed a business relationship with Kyah Forest Products by supplying it with logs. Northwood encouraged the Ministry of Forests to put timber up for tender under its value-added program. The win-win joint venture began making progress. It made good sense for Northwood to do business with the Wet'suwet'en whose hereditary territory covers more than two-thirds of Northwood Houston operation's timber supply. The joint venture helps secure the Houston division's timber supply and gives Northwood its first major venture into the value-added sector. Moricetown receives a significant economic and social stimulus. And the plant creates value- added products from trim ends previously considered waste. 

Under the partner's agreement, Kyahwood does the log harvesting (about 70,000 M3 per year) and sells the timber to Northwood at market price. Northwood in turn sells trim ends and lumber to Kyahwood. Members of the Moricetown community work in the re- manufacturing plant. 

Training started from scratch. Early in 1996, the Kyah Wiget Education Society began a process that included a life skills program, recalls administrator Deb Frazer. 

"We wanted to give people the skills to take the first step toward a job in the plant," she says. Industrial first-aid training followed, assisted by Forest Renewal BC, which is credited for its co-operation throughout the training process. 

Representatives of the five clans in Moricetown review job applications and meet monthly with Kyahwood. "It's worked extremely well and is very positive for everyone involved in Kyahwood," endorses La Londe. From the employees' handbook to the involvement of clan elders in counselling, there's a demonstrated cultural sensitivity tailored to Moricetown, adds Frazer. Kyahwood operates as a business in a competitive world market with community involvement obligations. 

Ground breaking for the new plant was June, 1996. After de-bugging the finger- joint line, a group of operators, lead hands and millwrights visited regional sawmills. Modifications followed and Kyahwood gathered momentum. The first truck load of Kyahwood lumber was shipped in February: "You should have seen the smiles," recalls La Laonde. 

By the end of March, the finger joint line was producing 30,000' of lumber per eight-hour shift; the goal for the first six months of the year achieved in the first quarter. Design capacity at two shifts and planer runnning is about 60 ft/vear. "But the most exciting thing about the process was we achieved no absenteeism, no time-loss accidents and that has continued. The commitment to make this a viable operation has just been outstanding" he adds. Kyahwood has 45 hourly employees and a supervisory and office staff of five. About 80 full-time hourly employees are projected when the  plant runs two full shifts. 

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