Houston council met with Canfor CEO Don Kayne in Houston last week Monday to discuss their plans for Houston.
Kayne announced last week Monday that, subject to the completed labour agreement with United Steelworkers, Canfor is planning to invest $36 million to upgrade the Houston sawmill.
“It just shows that they see Houston as a flagship mill… they’re investing, their future is here, so that’s good,” said Councillor Jonathan Van Barneveld.
Deputy Mayor Shane Brienen said it’s tough to say how he felt about the announcement.
“It’s tough [because] whenever they upgrade, it means that a few jobs will be lost, but then it makes them more competitive,” Brienen said.
He said that during the previous economic downturn, Houston Canfor was able to work through most of it because of their efficiency level, while a lot of other mills were shutting down or taking long downtime periods.
“It’s better if you’re more efficient.
“I would say overall [the upgrades are] probably a good thing. It’s not very nice when you lose a few more jobs, but it’s just the nature of how the industry’s going right now,” he said.
When asked whether Kayne said jobs would be lost with the upgrades, Brienen said no.
“They talked about the money they’re putting in,” he said.
“Usually when someone improves efficiency, it means layoffs [but] I can’t speak for Canfor,” Van Barneveld said.
He said the meeting was more to connect with Canfor in the wake of the HFP closure announcement and start a dialogue with them.
“We just wanted to catch up with Canfor and hear from their end what their plans were going forward,” Brienen said.
“We talked about the extra volume they had and what they plan to do with that and it sounds like they plan to process it at the Houston mill,” Brienen said.
He said one concern council raised was for the local logging contractors with HFP closing.
“There’s all those loggers, and there is going to be less wood for them to log, so we asked [Canfor] what they’re going to do there.
“We expressed on our side that the sooner we heard, the nicer it would be for our community because of the uncertainty,” Brienen said.
Brienen said it seemed that the delay in information is not because they didn’t want to let people know, but it’s that they are still ironing out their plans.
“We’re hoping that as soon as they know, they’ll let us and the loggers know,” he said.
Van Barneveld said they also talked about the Competition Bureau, but Kayne didn’t know the specifics about the process.
“I’m surprised that nobody really knows about this process,” he said.
He says they also confirmed that Canfor would be willing to invest in Houston community projects.
Van Barneveld says it seems decisions on project selection is largely made by local managers and interested groups can learn about Canfor’s community support and find an application form on their website, at www.canfor.com/responsibility/social/
Reports say that over 90 percent of all United Steelworkers in the Canfor plants combined, voted no to the proposed labour agreement.
For more see next week’s Houston Today.