If timing is everything, then there’s definitely a worse time to be in the lumber business.
Just ask Frank Dottori.
When the veteran forestry executive was working on resurrecting White River’s idle lumber mill about three years ago, few would have predicted just how far the formerly robust Canadian dollar would fall.
As the loonie dips under 70 cents US, you could almost hear the collective fist-bumping among forest industry leaders.
“We’re going to be making a lot more money,” Dottori said Thursday.
Canadian lumber has once again become a bargain for U.S. customers due to an exchange rate well in their favour.
Dottori said the boost in lumber sales won’t result in additional jobs at the White River mill, which “is pretty well crewed up” at 150 employees.
But he said it will allow the operation to continue to make hefty investments, like the $20-million equipment upgrade that was put in the mill last year.
Dottori says he wants the mill to increase its annual output of dimensional lumber of about 115 million board feet to 160 million board feet.
While White River Mayor Angelo Bazzoni is glad to see the mill prosper again following a devastating closure that lasted six years, he said the weak loonie has a sharp downside, especially for those living in remote Northern towns.
“The price of food (especially imported U.S. fruits and vegetables) has skyrocketed,” Bazzoni said. “You’re not going to see a lot of cauliflower on the plate this year.”
Some economists have been predicting that the loonie will drop as low as 60 cents by year’s end. Dottori, who at 76 has seen many ups and downs in the forestry business, said he doubts it will go that low.
In any event, said Dottori, the increase in sales far outweighs the cost of having to pay more for any equipment that is imported from the U.S., which he says isn’t all that significant.
“We should be making more (equipment) in Canada anyway,” said Dottori.
Northwestern Ontario tourism industry boosters, meanwhile, are expecting another banner year in terms of American travellers coming to this neck of the woods.
“We definitely try to play up the low dollar,” said North of Superior Tourism Association manager Dan Bevilacqua.
“People who do the American leg of the (Lake Superior) circle tour may decide that this is the year that they’ll do the Canadian side.”