Williams Lake had visits from the Liberal government last week including MLAs Donna Barnett, Bill Bennett, Jim Rustad and Premier Christy Clark.
On Friday Clark used West Fraser sawmill and a tour of its new planer, now under construction, as a backdrop to tout the government’s Jobs Plan, while Bennett, the minster of community, sport and cultural development, was the guest speaker at a special Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday.
“I was here to open the Stampede last year and what a great experience that was,” Clark said, describing the Cariboo as the “heart of the province” and a place to “roll up your sleeves and get it done.”
She congratulated West Fraser on its $25 million investment in the new planer.
“It’s impressive how young the workforce is at West Fraser and speaks to what is a sunrise, not sunset, forest industry,” Clark said. “The investment is happening because of the jobs that are being created in our province. We are opening up markets all over the world. That’s what the jobs plan was about when we introduced it.”
The plan, Clark said, was about opening up the permitting system and getting the bureaucracy out of the way, “as much as we could” to extract our resources and then to build the infrastructure to get them to market and open up the market so there are customers.
“We started that plan in 2011. Since then we have met 11 of 19 targets and are on target or ahead of schedule to meet the rest. One of the things I’ve learned over the last year and a half is that creating jobs isn’t something that happens over night, but part of a long-term plan.”
She said 47,000 net new jobs have been created, the economy is one of the strongest in Canada, and the unemployment rate continues to go down.
“Companies from around the world are currently investing in $80 billion worth of projects, including the $25 million investment we see happening next door to us.”
The forest industry is an example of the resiliency of B.C.
“It’s seen some ups and downs and over the last five years hasn’t been great, but we’re starting to see the prices go up and we’ve worked hard to diversify our economy in the meantime. As a result, people in the forest industry continue to work through very difficult times.”
West Fraser, she said, is an example of a company making further investment to continue to grow the industry.
“When we went to China 10 years ago, people laughed at us. The opposition laughed at us and said we’ll never be able to diversify B.C.’s market,” Clark said. “Well they were wrong. Because we went over to China to tell our story about wood and they liked it. We’ve seen our softwood lumber exports to China go up by 1,500 per cent in the last 10 years.”
Exports in 2012, totalled more than $10 billion, a 33 per cent increase from 2009.
Growth is also seen in energy production. In biomass there are about 1,600 megawatts of biomass electricity installed in the province, Clark said.
“It’s enough to power 1.2 million homes. The appetite for biomass in India and China is in-exhaustible.”
Bennett congratulated West Fraser and said its new investment means the company has confidence in the industry.
“It’s the reason we have focused so hard on the economy and encouraging investment.”
Ketcham, who has been the new manager at the sawmill for less than a year, said he was pleased to learn six months ago the company would build a new planer.
“We’ve completed the preliminary electrical work, and are at the stage now where we’re doing excavation work. Two months ago we finalized purchases of our equipment and are proud and pleased to say at all costs we’ve purchased from B.C. manufacturers.”
The equipment should arrive at the end of May and the new planer should be up and running by the third quarter of the year, Ketcham said.
“We have selected three contractors that are local to B.C. to complete the project.”