In 2008, Conifex Timber Inc. invested $21,618,587 to restart and modernize a dormant sawmill in Fort St. James, immediately creating 214 new jobs that were supported through a $2,140,000 training incentive from the Capital Investment and Training Rebate. This has been a funding partnership of Conifex Timber Inc. and Northern Development
2012- Conifex Timber Inc., a new privately owned British Columbia-based forest products company invested $12.8 million in the start-up of dormant Pope & Talbot forestry and sawmilling assets in Fort St. James in 2008. As the community’s primary employer, the closing of Pope & Talbot in 2007 had a devastating effect for many residents of Fort St. James who were forced to relocate for work. Many more residents feared they would also need to leave the community. When Conifex commenced operations in March 2009, there was renewed optimism in Fort St. James and other forest dependant communities throughout BC’s central interior.
The Fort St. James mill has a two-shift capacity of approximately 300 million board feet of Spruce-Pine-Fir lumber supported by an annual harvest of 640,000 cubic meters of sawlogs. Conifex cited Northern Development’s Capital Investment and Training Rebate as a critical piece in its management team’s decision to invest in Fort St. James as well as enabling the company to ramp up timelines for training its workforce and starting up production as quickly as possible. The $2.4 million rebate approved-in-principle by Northern Development gave Conifex critical financial assurance in local workforce training and operational startup. The job creation rebates were provided over the following two years once the company was fully operational in Fort St. James with a workforce exceeding 260 local employees.
"Simply put, Northern Development's new employee training incentive gave us the confidence and support we needed to successfully move forward on our sawmill acquisition and expansion in Fort St. James. The benefits available under the Capital Investment and Training Rebate program are an important reason we accepted the challenge of retraining our existing workforce, recruiting new employees, and replacing the services and support provided by Pope Talbot in Oregon with local experts in Fort St. James on a timely basis."Ken Shields, Chief Executive Officer, Conifex Timber Inc.
"As Conifex, we want to thank our employees, the community, the Northern Development Initiative Trust, the union, contractors, and vendors, very much. The support has been great and without that support we wouldn't be positioned as we are."Lorraine Ducharme, Vice President, Human Resources, Conifex Timber Inc.
"Northern Development's training incentive is an opportunity for employers to invest in a higher level of safety and production skills training that would otherwise not have been considered. With input from the management team, the plant committee and the local union, we can attain and retain a very successful trained workforce in our competitive industry. Both workers and business will benefit from Northern Development's program."Frank Everitt, President, United Steelworkers Local 1-424
"We have worked closely with Northern Development on community economic development projects and are excited that there is a business program that is having such an impact on our economy and potentially other local businesses."Leonard Thomas, Economic Development Manager, Nak'azdli Band
Conifex's significant investment in Fort St. James has had numerous benefits for the community and the region. With the help of Northern Development, Conifex was able to go against industry trends by acquiring and starting a mill during extremely difficult economic times within the forest sector, providing new jobs to over two hundred local residents. In April 2011, Conifex continued to build upon its success in Fort St. James, adding a second shift with an additional sixty five new employment positions immediately created in Fort St James.
This expansion is helping improve the economic conditions in the region, and is assisting the District of Fort St. James attract additional economic activity. Since re-opening the mill, Conifex has diversified the markets, having entered into new value-added markets with a significant volume of exports to China and Japan. Prior to Conifex opening the mill, the primary market for export was the United States, and now forty to sixty percent of all lumber produced at this mill is shipped to Asia.
In addition to the the benefits of diversifying its markets, Conifex now also operates all of its corporate functions for the mill right in Fort St. James. This means that the community now has additional professionals within its workforce as Conifex operates its accounts receivable, payroll, benefits, and other management functions in Fort St. James. Prior to being shuttered in 2007, Pope & Talbot operated these functions in the United States and the Fort St. James facility only offered operational positions.
Conifex plans to continue their efforts to support the community of Fort St. James by starting an apprenticeship program and training tradespeople from within the community. This will help the company improve its ability to attract employees to key operational positions within the sawmill, planermill, and its forestry operations while also providing skills development for its workforce and retaining qualified employees within Fort St. James.