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Westbank creates wood products and jobs.

Westbank First Nation didn't just celebrate National Aboriginal Day on June 21. It also celebrated the official opening of their Grizzly Wood Products manufactuing plant. It was purchased in 2004 with assistance from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and private partners. The 18,000 sq. ft. facility was then moved from Kelowna, B.C. to the reserve.

Originally it was a chopstick production facility. With contribution of $247,500 from Industry Canada's Aboriginal Business Canada program toward the $585,000 innovation and market expansion, Westbank was able to purchase state-of-the-art equipment that expanded its product line to hardwood flooring, small dimension lumber and prefabricated building panels. These products have been sold to stores in the Okanagan Valley, Vernon and Kamloop areas. Some of the products have even been sold internationally.

According to marketing manager, Phil Taneda, the plant took several months to disassemble and move to the reserve. Then the equipment had to be calibrated, the workforce had to be trained and the products had to be made. The factory currently employs 23 people, most of whom are Kelowna and Westbank community members.

Taneda said the machine to make the manufactured flooring products is very sensitive. It needs to be calibrated for each one of the wide range of wood species being used, including alder, fir, birch, pine and walnut.

The plant was built with the environment in mind. Grizzly Wood Products operates a biomass machine that vacuums up the sawdust and stores it until it can be burned in a kiln that creates heat for the plant and offices.

"The biomass machine burns so efficiently that we have less than a bucketful of ashes at the end of the week," said Taneda, who already has his mind on expansion. With another several acres of land, phase two of the business will begin. Westbank wants to build a mill that would generate even more jobs.

"Building a mill would allow us to have a full circle of use of product," said Taneda. "Instead of taking raw material and sending if off to another country for them to make it into something and then sell it back to us at a higher price, we want to add that value to the wood here on our own land so it says 'Made in B.C.' or 'Made in Canada.'"
COPYRIGHT 2005 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Start Up
Author:Stevens, Laura
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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