British Columbia Premier takes Western Forest Products' plan for C$200M investment in Vancouver Island operations as sign of industry's returning confidence in markets, government direction

NANAIMO, British Columbia , October 19, 2011 () – Western Forest Products plans to invest $200 million in the Nanaimo area, Lee Doney, vicechairman of the board of directors, told B.C. Premier Christy Clark during an news conference at the Vancouver Island Convention Centre, Tuesday afternoon.

"We officially opened our new head office here in Nanaimo last January and we've reopened our mills in Ladysmith, Duke Point and Nanaimo."

Doney said that the average wage for one of his mill employees is approximately $75,000 and he estimates that 100 people are now working at area mills.

Clark said she was thrilled with the announcement.

To the premier, WFP's $200-million investment means that the company has confidence in the economic direction her government is heading.

"You don't make investments if you don't have confidence," Clark said.

It's not just WFP rebounding after the 2008 recession.

"Forest communities across Vancouver Island are starting to feel confident again," said Clark, who acknowledged that confidence has been helped by China's demand for B.C. wood.

"They (China) plan on building 35 New Yorks in the next 10 years and we are meeting their demand," she said.

"More than 25 mills have opened or re-opened across B.C. as a result of China."

Numerous spinoff jobs result from good-paying forestry job, she said.

"When people have jobs, they put money back into the economy."

Clark said that helps everyone from the barista in a coffee bar to real estate and car salespeople.

"Companies like Western Forest Products have shown that B.C. has what it takes," Clark said.

"The coastal forest industry is once again thriving."

WFP has seen seven consecutive profitable quarters, said Doney.

"In the last 18 months we have restarted four sawmills, three of them in this area," he said.

Bill Routley, the NDP's deputy forest critic and Cowichan Valley MLA was less-than-impressed with the announcement.

"It's fine for them to open up their head office in Nanaimo but they shut down the one they had in Duncan," the former union leader said.

"This is just smoke and mirrors. We are still down about 30,000 workers in the coastal forest industry."

In a heated discussion with Doney following the press conference, Routley asked him "how many of your mills on the Island are running at capacity?" Doney said he didn't want to make the question-and-answer session a political opportunity for Routley.

As Occupy Nanaimo protesters chanted outside the conference centre that people needed jobs, Routley said he wanted to know why the provincial and federal governments continue to allow raw log exports.

"We're allowing China to outcompete us," he said.

"They have no labour standards, they have no environmental standards and we are selling them our raw logs so they can sell value-added products back to us."

Copyright The Daily News (Nanaimo). All rights reserved.

* All content is copyrighted by Industry Intelligence, or the original respective author or source. You may not recirculate, redistrubte or publish the analysis and presentation included in the service without Industry Intelligence's prior written consent. Please review our terms of use.