Tribune Staff Writer
West Fraser will construct a new planer at its Williams Lake Sawmill, general manager Matt Ketcham announced Friday afternoon.
“I am honoured to share some good news, not only for the company, but for the town of Williams Lake,” Ketcham said.
Outlining the company’s history, which was started in 1955 by three Ketcham brothers with a one-line planer in Quesnel, Ketcham said it’s been the company’s culture to reinvest in its employees and its facilities to maintain a strong global position.
The company will rebuild the planer complex and modernize its equipment.
“I believe this will contribute to the long-term success of not only the mill, but for our people. This division has been part of the company since 1957 and the sawmill was rebuilt in 1989,” Ketcham said, adding the new complex will be built close to the existing one.
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett congratulated West Fraser, saying it was a great day.
“It proves that the forest industry is alive and well in British Columbia and in particular, pine beetle country, where we hear so much negative about the future. We’ve said all along we will have a forest industry. It will change; it will not be the same.”
The announcement signals confidence in the future for present employees and those in the future, Barnett added.
“This gives stability and certainty to the workers and the community.”
Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Steve Thomson, praised West Fraser, describing it as a “great company and a strategic investor.”
Echoing Barnett, Thomson said there has been lots of skepticism about the future of forestry in the province, however West Fraser’s announcement indicates its confidence the industry is here to stay and will have a long healthy viable future in the Cariboo.
“This is a reflection on what we’ve been able to achieve as a province over the last number of years, to be able to put a stable investment climate in place to be able to support those industries that are working to compete globally.”
The forest industry has come through a very difficult downturn and very tough circumstances over the last couple of years, but companies are being innovative and continue to invest in the industry, and work through the downturn to look to the future, Thomson added.
Mayor Kerry Cook said she recently welcomed Ketcham to the community, saying it’s important to have “younger” people with a family background and rich heritage in Williams Lake return to the community.
“Foresty is such an important fabric in our community and it’s so exciting to see West Fraser invest in such a large way,” she said.
Ketcham explained that plans for the capital plan are still in process, so he could not name an exact dollar amount that will be expended. The hope is to begin construction in the new year. The current planer will remain in operation while the new one is being built.
Once the new one is open, the old site will be used to expand shop and storage facilities, and for lunch rooms.
The new planer will not create an extra shift, and Ketcham does not anticipate any job losses. Presently there are around 180 hourly workers employed at the planer mill.
Ketcham also took the opportunity to congratulate planerman Bill Belziuk who has worked at the sawmill 40 years.
“He is our best planerman,” Ketcham said.
Belziuk has actually worked in the industry 42 years, beginning his career in Dawson Creek.
“I started working with Peter Ketcham and then Hank Ketcham, Matt’s dad. Something that makes it all worthwhile is the camaraderie we have here,” Belziuk said.