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Grant plans expansion of mills.

Grant Forest Products is creating 218 processing and harvesting jobs through an expansion program at their Englehart and Timmins mills.

The oriented strand board (OSB) giant received approval last month from the Ministry of Natural Resources for cutting licences to use underutilized birch trees on Crown land.

Bob Fleet, vice-president of woodland operations for the company, says the $55-million expansion at both mills amounts to about a 20 per cent jump in their overall production capacity and allows them to experiment with different specialty products.

Both expansions will not amount to much in the way of bricks and mortar in the coming months, he says, but make more efficient use of their existing plant space.

Grant Forest Products was one of the successful bidders in a forestry program launched last year, which was designed to make better use of about one million cubic metres of surplus-wood across northeastern Ontario, help stimulate economic development and create employment opportunities for First Nations people.

The company had requested 141,000 and 187,000 cubic metres of wood supply annually for their Timmins and Englehart mills respectively.

Forty-seven mill positions will be created in Timmins, along with 88 positions in harvesting. Englehart will have 33 new mill jobs with an additional 50 in harvesting.

Since the mills usually process aspen, Fleet says some new log-handling technologies and upgrades must be made to handle birch logs, including redesigning their log ponds and installing new bark-removing machinery.

Fleet says the upgrades at the Timmins mill will include small specialty-products mill for some research and development opportunities to experiment with different-sized dimensions for the housing sector. The mini mm would also produce some engineered wood products such as large joists.

Aboriginal people also stand to reap the benefits. Eighty jobs at both mills will go to First Nations people and the company has set up bursaries for some northern bands to enable Natives to enrol in forest technicians programs at area community colleges. Two Native liaison positions are being created to help pool an Aboriginal workforce in logging and the transportation side of the business. The company will also offer a business skills tutoring program for its Aboriginal partners and cross-cultural training for all its staff.

The company still has to finalize an arrangement with the other successful bidder - birch plywood plant proponent Algoma Mill Works - where there are areas of overlapping wood supply.

Grant Forest Products has been an industry leader in sawmill, logging and OSB operations since the early 1980s. when Peter Grant built a waferboard plant in Englehart. Meter years of research into a more recently developed product known as oriented strand board, a second $300-million mill was built. The Timmins-based facility, worth about $170 million, was purchased in 1998.

Most of their product is used in the United States and in the southern Ontario housing industry.
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Author:ROSS, IAN
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:May 1, 2001
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