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Hard lesson

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Yesterday’s stunning announcement that Abitibi-Consolidated will permanently shut down one newsprint machine at its Kenora mill, and idle the other two there until at least this fall, is devastating news for that community.

Almost 150 employees will lose their jobs permanently, with another 333 to be temporarily laid off. And that’s not counting all those in direct and in-direct jobs—loggers and truckers chief among them—who also will be affected by the decision.

But it’s impact also will reverberate right across the region, including some jobs in Rainy River District. Equally important, though, is the grim realization among many today that if this can happen in Kenora, it can happen here.

True, Abitibi’s mill in Fort Frances makes a value-added paper, not newsprint. And the company recently added a multi-million-dollar peroxide plant here to produce even brighter paper. That’s the good news.

But a town that’s so dependent on one industry can never be fully insulated from the whims of the market, or some other unforeseen development down the road.

That’s the scary news.

Kenora will survive; in fact, there’s already talk of converting the downed machine to produce value-added paper instead of newsprint, perhaps some 65-70 brights the mill here is moving away from.

Still, yesterday’s news had better serve as yet another wake-up call to towns like Fort Frances on the need to diversify their economic base.

It’s a task that must take top priority among our municipal leaders and business community to help cushion a major blow that, like the big quake on the West Coast, is not a matter of if, but when.

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