The forestry industry has been credited as one of the bright spots during this financial downturn, especially in Alberta and economic developers want to know how.
The Alberta Association of Economic Developers is holding its 2015 AGM in Kananaskis this week and one of the presentations is from the Forest Products Association of Canada.
There are currently 20,000 forestry workers in Alberta among the 230,000 across Canada and there has been year-over-year growth in the province of 7.5 per cent for the past few years.
But FPAC President David Lindsay said the success didn’t happen overnight and followed about a decade of struggle when over 100,000 jobs were lost.
“A lot of people thought the forest industry was dead, but it’s turned around,” he said.
Lindsay said the key was diversifying products, such as making methanol out of forest fibre, dissolving pulp which makes rayon fabric for clothing and even using wood composites in plastic.
“Food additives, plastics, clothing, you wouldn’t have thought those were forestry products 10 years ago, but with innovation and research and science, we’re able to create new products and new markets,” he said.
That innovation has led to forestry products being the largest Canadian exports to China, but Lindsay admits there are unique challenges in oil and gas.
“The exploration side is probably taking the biggest hit right now, it’s not seen as lucrative enough to explore for new oil when there’s so much cheap oil around, so I’m not sure innovation is going to help there,” he said.
But that’s where Lindsay said Canada’s advanced technical skills and knowledge can play a huge part and points to a product developed by both forestry and oil and gas.
“It’s a lubricant to help make the drilling shafts drill faster and then when it dries and hardens, it’s actually a sealant that stays in the shaft so that’s our of forest fibres working with the oil and gas industry,” he said. “So taking that knowledge and that technical skill and exporting that around the world, it’s not just about the oil, but all the knowledge and the smart people and the innovators that we have here.”
Lindsay added that investment is the most critical component to getting through economic uncertainty.
“The commodity prices will go up and down, but it’s investing in our people, investing in innovation and taking on the world to export our products and export our knowledge is how we’re going to be successful,” he said.