Five years after Columbia Forest Products shut down its Rutherglen veneer plant, efforts are underway to reopen the facility.
“I’m very optimistic,” said Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Jay Aspin, who toured the plant Tuesday with company representatives, as well as Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli and members of the Mattawa-Bonfield Economic Development Corporation.
Aspin said he’s hopeful the company will be able to get the facility back up and running with a little assistance and co-operation from from the development corporation and all levels of government. He said the same sort of approach aided in the reopening of Antoine Mountain in Mattawa.
“The plant is in good shape,” said Aspin, noting the company was receptive to the notion of reopening the facility.
He said there’s potential capacity to reopen the plant due to a stronger American dollar and recovering U.S. markets. But Aspin said he wants to work with the company, which has two other such mills, to ensure any resuming of operations is sustainable.
“We don’t want to be right back where we started five years down the road,” he said, noting the company may be in need some capital dollars for equipment replacement as well as help with training.
At its peak, Aspin said the plant employed 300 people. But many of those workers have since left the area and found jobs elsewhere.
He said the initial aim will be to get the plant back in operation, even if that involves only a single shift.
“It’s a start,” he said, noting 10% to15% of the original workforce would mean as many as 45 jobs.
Similar efforts to find a new operator to reopen the nearby former Tembec Mattawa mill have been a challenge due to a lack of forest harvesting rights available in the area. But Aspin said Columbia’s Rutherglen operation has its own fibre supply.
He said the process will likely take up to nine months. And Aspin reiterated that cooperation among all the parties is essential.
About 70 employees lost their jobs in 2010 when the veneer facility closed its doors. The move came as a result of a struggle for the plant against competition from China-based operations, a strong loonie and weak U.S. dollar, coupled with a major economic downturn.