Struggles across the forestry industry continue to dominate headlines across British Colombia, especially right here in the Interior.
Earlier this month the continued issues surrounding the lack of access to logs, increased log costs, and weakening lumber cost resulted in Aspen Planers cutting back from two shifts to one. The cuts resulted in 50 workers losing their jobs.
And that’s just here in Merritt.
If you expand outwards, the sawmill in Vavenby is shutting down operation all together next month. The closure will result in 178 job losses.
Even this week it was announced that Canfor would be curtailing their operation at all their BC mills, except for the WynnWood sawmill. In total the curtailments will result in a cut to Canfor's production by approximately 200 million board feet.
With the uncertainty around the forestry industry, a simple question was posed, how can Merritt survive with the loss of its main industry?
“I think the days of one big industry coming in and saving communities are gone” began MLA Jackie Tegart. “I think a lot of our leaders in our local communities are looking at, how do we diversify, how do we diversify in a way that we have good family supporting jobs and also that we don’t lose who we are as community.”
“In the past we just thought those resource jobs would be there forever. We’re certainly seeing that that’s not the case,” said MLA Tegart. “We need to look at how we move forward and how do we sustain those jobs.”
“We’ve had a lot of industries over the years in Merritt, we’ve had the mining, we’ve had the ranching and farming, and we’ve had the logging. Several times over the years each one has had its peaks and valleys, and we’ve managed to survive,” said Mayor Linda Brown. “Although it’s difficult for those who are being laid off at this time, we certainly hope to able to bring Merritt into a place that is more prosperous than what it is now. So, more diversified industry, and more industry in general. So, by the looks of what we’re doing in the development area, my hope is that we are headed in that direction.”
“When you have uncertainty delivered by the Government in regards to what the future looks like and when you have a lack of consultation with the industry, industry starts looking elsewhere,” added MLA Tegart.
“There is a lot of industries across the board checking us out right now. We have industrial land and we have land cheaper than you can buy it in the lower mainland,” said Mayor Brown. “Overall, it’s cheaper to come to Merritt, we have the land, they can build. As they do that, we’re looking at drawing some industries that have the capacity to handle more employees. I don’t know if it’s going to work through a transition stage for the currently displaced employees, but we’re certainly trying are best to ensure that Merritt will have the capacity in the future to handle these kinds of losses. And yes, diversification is key.”
“We’re moving in a direction that we’ve never moved in the past. People are starting to look at us, people are hearing we’re open for business, they’re coming and checking us out and something is bound to connect. So, it is a matter of time and I believe that it will happen at some point in the near future,” concluded Mayor Brown.
On Twitter: @Q101Merritt