|STEVE MACNAULL/The Okanagan Saturday|
West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater, left, Kelowna-Mission MLA and Forests Lands and Natural Resource Minister Steve Thomson and chamber co-chair Norm LeCavalier were on hand for the Westbank & District Chamber of Commerce lunch this week at the Holiday Inn. Thomson told the lunch crowd forestry is not a sunset industry.
"There was a perception out there that with all the hardships the industry has faced over the past few years that forestry was a sunset industry," Forests Lands and Natural Resource Minister Steve Thomson said after
addressing a Westbank & District Chamber of Commerce lunch crowd this week at the Holiday Inn.
"It's the exact opposite. It's now a sunrise industry. We have a good timber supply - one of the best in the world - and a good future."
One could be forgiven for counting B.C. forestry out.
Before the U.S. housing market crashed in 2007, drastically reducing demand for B.C. wood for construction, annual forest products exports were $12.3 billion and 82,880 were directly employed by forestry in the province.
By 2009 - the worst of the overall recession and the depths of what, in forestry, was a depression - exports were
almost half at $7.6 billion and 51,490 had direct jobs in the
In 2011, the last year for which there are full records,
exports were up to $9.9 billion and employment had
increased to 53,340.
"We're not back yet to pre-depression levels," admitted Thomson, who is also Kelowna-Mission MLA.
"But there is growth and recovery, and it will continue getting better."
The future looks particularly bright in the Okanagan, where damage from the pine beetle wasn't as devastating as it was in the Central Interior.
"Gorman's (in West Kelowna), Tolko (which has mills in Kelowna, Armstrong, Lumby and Lavington) and smaller operators and loggers and contractors are doing well and have optimism and are re-investing," Thomson pointed out.
"In fact, Gorman's just bought Federated Co-op's operations in the Shuswap. There are also forestry partnerships with First Nations from the Osoyoos Indian Bank, Westbank First Nation and Okanagan Indian Band (in Vernon)."
While times in forestry were certainly dire through the
recession, the industry and government did rally and
diversified markets to tap into Chinese growth, Japanese
rebuilding after its tsunami and the emergence of India.
In 2001, forestry exports to China were $67 million.
In 2011, they were $1.1 billion.
"The U.S. housing market is coming back and that is very good news to the B.C. industry because they are our closest, biggest and easiest market," said Thomson.
"The trick will be to serve the U.S. as it comes back,
but also stay diversified with China, Japan and India. We cannot forget the work we've done on those new markets."
Recovery in forestry also means challenges.
In the next 20 years, the industry is expected to have 60,000 job openings from a combination of workers retiring and growth creating new positions.
"We're going to have a skilled labour shortage," Thomson warned. "Government, in conjunction with industry, is ready with training, retraining and immigration."
As the oil and gas industries also grow in Northern B.C. and Alberta the competition for workers will be even greater.