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What is the forest industry’s future?

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With the North American pulp and paper industry suffering from persistent over-capacity and steadily diminishing domestic markets, the future for that segment of the forest industry is rather bleak.

Add to that a slew of mill closings, exacerbated by high electricity costs, particularly in Ontario, and the picture is not pretty.

As well, the sick North American housing and construction market, along with a strong Canadian dollar, makes a significant recovery in the lumber sector unlikely for some months—or years.

On top of that, expanding industrialization of the forestry sector in other parts of the world, growth of wood fibre much more rapid in warmer climates, and societal pressures at home to limit commercial exploitation of boreal forest resources are just about guaranteeing the boom days of the forestry industry, as we knew it in the last century, will not return to our area.

So, do we just fold up our tents, apply for welfare, and move to the big city? Or do we view the current situation as a challenge and an opportunity to brighten our lot?

The Northern Ontario Value Added Initiative has taken up the challenge and is helping local entrepreneurs exploit these new opportunities.

NOVA is an umbrella initiative encompassing and supported by various levels of government, First Nations, economic development agencies, and other organizations. It is delivered by FP Innovations, another joint effort established by Feric, Forintek, Paprican, and the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre—each umbrella organizations themselves representing various forestry interests.

The intended goal and result is a highly-focused effort to improve the value-added forestry industry.

To do that, you need good people and FP has them. In Northwestern Ontario, their man on the ground is Percy Champagne of Barwick, who is well-known locally as the hands-on man who oversaw the construction, start-up, and ongoing successful operation of the Voyageur Panel OSB mill there.

He continued in that capacity for several years until after the mill was sold by Boise to Ainsworth.

But that’s not the only feather in his cap. Champagne has an extensive background in the forest industry, working his way up from a stationary engineer at a wafer board mill in Longlac, Ont. through several positions in Alberta, where he undertook the upgrading and overhaul of several multi-million-dollar forestry mill projects.

From envisioning an idea to effectively seeing it through to reality, here’s a “can do . . . has done” man.

“We have a host of value-added opportunities in forestry in Northwestern Ontario,” said Champagne while outlining the programs NOVA is hosting to explore those opportunities.

“Value-added forest products can be very successful and profitable,” he added, pointing to the success of operations locally such as Gingrich Woodcraft Inc. of Devlin and massively successful worldwide retail operations like Ikea.

“What it takes is a unique idea, and then the expertise to manufacture, distribute, and sell it,” stressed Champagne, noting other unique successes like Aspenware Inc. of B.C., which has made a real hit with its line of laminated hardware cutlery.

“That’s where we come in. You’ve got an idea, let us help you develop it,” he said, detailing the programs and services NOVA offers, such as direct technical service, process and product development studies, and technical seminars.

This fall, in fact, NOVA will be holding a series of short seminars locally entitled “Creating Your Value-Added Wood Product” (watch your local newspaper for a time and location near you).

These short sessions will give you a great introduction to NOVA and the opportunities available.

In addition, there will be a major conference, entitled “Growing Forest Value,” on Oct-16 at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay. The conference will boast a host of prominent national and international speakers, and authorities on the value-added wood industry.

So, have you got one of those quirky, crazy ideas of the wooden sort you’d like to explore a little further? Why not give Champagne a shout and bounce it off him.

He can be reached at P.O. Box 44, Barwick, Ont., P0W 1A0, by phone at 487-9923 or 1-705-321-389, or via e-mail at percy.champagne@fpinnovations.ca

After all, your idea might just be “the next big thing.”

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