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Wawa's Wilderness Group expands its service and creates 30 jobs.

While mill closures roll through the forestry sector, the Wilderness Group is diversifying and creating new jobs as a result of a $1 million loan from the provincial Northern Ontario Grow Bonds program.

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The Wawa company, which offers a variety of services including environmental assessment and forest management, is investing the funds in industrial vegetation management and aerial refurbishment. This will supplement the company's workforce of nearly 100 seasonal / full-time employees by creating up to 30 new positions, where workers can expect to be annually employed for up to 10 months.

"These areas have become our focus, because forestry is obviously in a tough situation right now," says Peter Moore, president.

"There's not a lot of growth opportunities there, so we can either sit and beat our head on the wall for a few years or we can find another niche we can operate in and try to stay in business."

Moore says that the company's efforts to adjust its focus away from pure forestry is crucial as the industry struggles to break out of its current downturn. By focusing on industrial vegetation management and aerial refurbishment, the Wilderness Group diversifies its services and better positions itself to ride out the current industry crisis, Moore says.

"We're about 30 per cent forestry driven right now. I think the sector will eventually turn itself around, but we definitely need other forms of revenue to sustain ourselves."

With the funding, the Wilderness Group has purchased spray equipment and aerial lift devices for trimming work. A mulcher has also been added to the company, allowing it to perform the niche service of clearing wooded or vegetation-laden areas without the use of herbicides.

The funding will also enable the company to continue with aircraft refurbishment, an area with strong economic potential, Moore says. Over the last few years, the Wilderness Group has purchased older or distressed aircraft from the United States to fix up and bring to Canadian standards of airworthiness.

The units are then used in-house, leased or sold, with the revenue going towards the purchase of additional aircraft. Unlike used cars, however, the purchase of aircraft must be done at specific times and places, Moore says, a process which will be assisted by the Grow Bond funding.

The loan also allows the business to move forward with its expansion plans without having to look to economically risky, high-interest sources, he says.

"It gives you a reasonable interest rate and the opportunity to maybe pursue a venture of a higher-risk nature than most lending institutions traditionally support. In order to pursue this in another way, we'd probably have to go out and get risk capital, which would potentially cost more, making the economics of our projects much more challenging."

The unseasonably warm winter has allowed the Wilderness Group to continue some of its work into early January, increasing the amount of time some of its seasonal workers can remain in the field. Between the higher temperatures and the company's recent investments, Moore says businesses such as his are helping to compensate for the growing economic gaps left by the downturn of the forestry industry.

"At the end of the day, it's probably smaller companies who pick up the slack from the mill closures that you read about in the paper."

www.wilderness.on.ca

By NICK STEWART

Northern Ontario Business
COPYRIGHT 2007 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT: FORESTRY
Author:Stewart, Nick
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Feb 1, 2007
Words:559
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