The Houston community was shocked last Thursday afternoon to hear of the pending closure of Houston Forest Products (HFP).
“It was total disappointment, total shock,” said Mayor Bill Holmberg when asked about his reaction to the news.
“My heart is with all the millworkers who are going to be out of a job in the second quarter of 2014,” he said.
“It was something in the background that we knew sooner or later might happen, but we certainly didn’t get much advance warning.”
Holmberg says they still don’t know much detail about the plans of HFP and Canfor, so it’s too early to say how the closure will affect Houston.
He says that some of the HFP cut is being transferred to Smithers and some to Canfor.
“What does that mean for our logging community?
“I’m being told by HFP there will be no change on the basis of their contractors, but we’ll have to believe it when we see it,” he said.
Houston Chamber of Commerce President and Home Hardware owner Troy Reitsma says the economic impact will be devastating.
“It’s going to affect every person that lives in Houston. It’s going to affect every business in Houston,” he said, adding that he is still trying to figure out what the ripple effect will be.
“We’re looking at 250 jobs at HFP right off the bat.
“With spin-off industry and spin-off businesses in town, we could see 350 jobs lost through this,” Reitsma said.
“I’m praying it’s not more.
“It’s a shock to most people in Houston. We didn’t see this coming,” he said.
“But Houston is an amazing community that pulls together in times of crisis, and this is just another crisis that we’ll pull together and get through.”
Several HFP employees who did not want to be named, said many of the employees plan to work until the mill closes so that they will qualify for a severance package and benefits.
IMPACT ON PROPERTY VALUE
Remax agent Lia Long commented: “I think the initial announcement is devastating.”
Within the first day of the announcement, Long said she had a dozen inquiries about property listings.
“I think there will be a surplus of listings coming up,” she said.
Long says the market in Houston has been booming, and both September and October were extremely busy.
“It’s been very busy, and there’s been a lot of property purchase.
“There are a lot of new people coming to Houston who are working for Huckleberry or for Canfor,” Long said.
“Affordability is driving the market in Houston,” she said, adding that they have over 30 listings with a good cross section of inventory.
She says laid off workers could commute to a camp job but stay living in Houston.
“Houston has seen lots of adversity. We have a wonderful community.
“I am very optimistic and it’s business as usual,” Long said.
Local sawmills currently pay half of the property taxes in the District of Houston.
The top two taxpayers in 2013 were Canfor with a tax bill of $1,668,000 and West Fraser with $618,000 in property taxes.
The District council and staff have 2014 budget meetings scheduled to start in November.
QUICK HISTORY OF HFP
Houston Forest Products was officially opened on Aug. 16,1978.
At the time, HFP employed 220 people directly and pro-ducted 150 MFBM annually operating two shifts a day.
In 2007, HPP employed 307 people directly and produced 350 MFBM annually operating three shifts a day.