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First Nations working on 300-job project.

Red Lake District -- Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation (WLON) and Wood Tech Group from Finland are nearing the advanced stages of a business plan that could bring up to 300 value-added industry jobs to the northwest region.

A $70-million project to build a laminated post and beam manufacturing facility in the Red Lake District with a related planing, component manufacturing plant and head office in Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation is gaining momentum.

Laminating, kiln drying, and primary sawing will require 155 new full-time jobs, with 20 more jobs at the planing plant, says Wabigoon's development officer, James Kroeker. Sixty jobs are projected for freight out-hauling when production is at its maximum and transporting wood fibre into the operations will require at least another 15 positions.

This initiative will provide key training and education initiatives to the 500-member community and help to further diversify their sustainable forestry projects.

For more than three years, Wabigoon has been working alongside Wood Tech Group (WTG) of Finland, a liaison organization linking manufacturers to investors and retailers.

The intent is to adopt some of the Finnish forestry philosophies by building a forest economy from best-end uses and highest-value practices.

To do this, the community had to determine the quality and strength of their wood.

A stress rate test completed by Dr. Mathew Leitch of Lakehead University revealed Northern Ontario has some of the strongest wood fibre in the world. The farther North, the stronger the tree.

"The growth is slower and the rings are closer together, so it is very strong fibre," Kroeker says.

By identifying the strength of the wood they can determine the best use for the highest value.

"This is what they do in Finland."

Finland has developed a marketing network for 10-million cubic metres of wood fibre every year.

This northwestern Ontario initiative will produce up to 160,000--cubic metres per year.

A portion of the wood basket will come from north of the Area of Undertaking (51 degrees latitude). The Whitefeather Development Corp. has completed all the background work on the potential harvest territories and partnerships have been fused between Wabigoon and Pikangikum First Nation.

"We are hoping within four years they can get through the environmental part of things," he says.

Delegates from WTG have travelled to the northwest numerous times, touring Canadian mill operations and developing business plans, which are based on three-and-a half years' worth of studies. Even though WTG does not invest in projects, it has access to 19 different Finnish companies and connections to international markets that will bring potential investment and expertise to the table.

Kroeker has been to Finland twice. This third trip will be to secure $10-million in private dollars and specialized expertise.

"The Finnish investors tend to think more long-term than over here," Kroeker says. "We are targeting to get only four investors from Finland. We don't want them to bring just cash to the project, we want them to bring their specialized capacity as well."

He will be joined in Finland by a host of First Nation, government and private-sector officials.

They include: from Wabigoon First Nation, forestry consultant Peter Nichols and Chief Ester Pitchenese; from Whitefeather Forest Management Corp., president Alex Peters and technician Andrew Chapeskie; Red Lake CAO Brian Anderson, Confederation College forestry centre manager Brian Kurikka and Esker Logging owner Larry Herbert.

A Ministry of Natural Resources official is expected to attend as well.

Kroeker will be focusing on companies like IKEA, Honkatalot, Nordpine the largest post and beam marketer into the Japanese market.

"We want to get them as an equity investor."

The project began growing legs when the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. provided $266,000 followed by an investment from FedNor of $500,000.

"This has also helped to leverage almost $300,000 that the Wood Tech Group has put (forth) out of their own pocket."

Post-and-beam is primarily a Japanese market. They use it like Canadians would use two-by-fours or two-by sixes. Architects have determined that post and beam structures hold up better in earthquakes.

"That is one of the reasons why it is growing in popularity over there."

Some profits made by this initiative will be allocated to the community, while others will be put into a development fund for future opportunities between WTG and Wabigoon.


Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Louiseize, Kelly
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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