Forest Industry Starts to Evolve

By Darrell Bellaart, The Daily News
March 9, 2009

A brave, new world awaits a revitalized coastal forest industry where the new mills will be massive, highly efficient beasts that employ far fewer workers.

That is what economic analyst Jamie Vann Struth says it will take to resuscitate the troubled industry. No examples of these mills exist today in B.C., but he says Harmac's worker-owned model is one example that has set the industry on its ear.

When employees banded together earlier this year to pool their money with four investors to form Nanaimo Forest Products, it sent shockwaves through the industry. Harmac is succeeding today because that partnership has found ways to shave costs where other mills have been forced to close. Vann Struth says the forestry industry must evolve and become more efficient to succeed and NFP president Levi Sampson agrees.

"I definitely think the forest industry has to adapt to survive," he said. "Things were done for a long time a certain way and when the forest industry was thriving, doing well, that was great. But you can't stay with the status quo."

Success means controlling costs and for Harmac's employees the biggest change was joint ownership of the mill. It was the reason Sampson agreed to invest in the company in the first place.

"The worker-owner partnership was important," Sampson said. "You have a huge motivation factor and I've seen that already tenfold."

NFP's experience is an example for others in an industry that has been mired in efficiency problems rooted in an old, outdated model.
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