Premier David Eby on Tuesday announced the creation of a new $90-million program to help kickstart the economy in rural British Columbia and encourage job development in the value-added forestry sector.
The B.C. Manufacturing Jobs Fund will provide up to $10 million for each new project and to help retool existing businesses struggling to survive challenging conditions, particularly in the hard-hit forest sector.
“These investments for rural B.C. will help create sustainable, secure, good-paying jobs,” said Eby. “Our whole province benefits with local workers and their families being able to build good lives in the rural communities they call home and the money’s going to go where it’s needed most, to areas that have experienced economic impacts from changes in the forestry sector.”
“We’re looking for projects that diversify local economies and promote forestry added-value innovation, whether it’s a forestry company seeking new equipment to make mass timber products or setting up a bioplastics or biofuel facility in a rural community.”
Eby made the announcement Tuesday afternoon in Prince George, to start the three-day B.C. Natural Resources Forum. The fund is in addition to the $185 million budgeted last year for the Forest Workers Community Support Initiatives program.
Eby met earlier Tuesday with some of the 300 employees who will lose their jobs as a result of the pending closure of the pulp line at Prince George Pulp and Paper mill, announced by Canfor Pulp last week.
“B.C’s forestry sector is certainly facing a challenge and more work needs to be done in partnership to support people in forestry-dependent communities,” Eby said.
"We are seeing pulp mills that have been shuttered in the province, where people are bringing forward innovative proposals about re-opening those plants to produce different things, everything from energy to single-use paper products. This are the kinds of opportunities we're looking for. This initiative today will support those kind of proposals."
In choosing who will qualify for the funding, Brenda Bailey, Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation, said the government will target investments based on their potential to create employment. She said priority will be given to projects that create the most jobs and the most high-paying jobs.
“It could be investing in a forestry so they can upgrade aging equipment to support new product lines or smaller-diameter tree harvesting and manufacturing,” said Bailey. “Or to help a new manufacturing company expand and adopt new technologies and processes.”
Bailey said the province will do what it can to help the 300 workers and their families affected by the PG Pulp closure and assist forestry workers in other parts of the province still struggling with job losses caused mostly by dwindling timber stocks.
“I want you to know that this B.C. Manufacturing Jobs Fund is about creating opportunities for you, because you’re the engine that runs our province and because if you’re not working, our province is not working,” said Bailey. “We will not leave you behind. The premier and our government will have your back.”
Forests Minister Bruce Ralston said the fund will allow companies to roll out ‘shovel-ready projects” that focus on value-added innovation as the forestry industry looks to diversify beyond sawmills and pulp mills now struggling to find economically-viable fibre as a result of beetle infestations and wildfires.
“This could be a pulp mill that wants to retrofit to making paper packaging instead of newsprint, or a sawmill that wants to add a new product line to manufacture mass timber or other specialty wood products,” said Ralston.
“These investments will create good opportunities and good family-supporting jobs,” he said. “We know the industry is clearly facing challenges. Lumber prices have plummeted compared to what they were a year ago and the annual allowable cut has declined due to the end of the beetle-kill harvest an unprecedented wildfires across the province. But we also know forestry will remain a foundation of B.C.’s economy for generations to come.
“By driving new investments and innovation we can make sure that more value-added products are manufactured in British Columbia, fewer raw logs are exported each year, and most importantly, more jobs are created for every tree harvested.”
It was Eby’s first official visit to Prince George since he was sworn in as Premier on Nov. 17 to replace John Horgan. He will address the forum delegates in an evening speech tonight at the Prince George Civic and Conference Centre. A rally to protest closure of the PG Pulp mill is planned for the same time at the adjacent Canada Games Plaza.