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Happily Ever After

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By Rick Brouwer of SNCIRE

In recent months, the people of the Northwest have been described as the ‘belles of the resource development ball’ - essentially small town girls being wooed by well-spoken corporate diegos. Let’s carry that idea forward in the context of the fairytale Cinderella, but a more modern version with a few twists.

In this tale, everyone’s invited to the ball; in fact, we have no choice and must attend. At the ball, there’s more than one Prince Charming and they aren’t just looking for a ‘one and only’. Here one Charming may partner with more than one Cinderella, and one Cinderella may partner with more than one Charming. And when they do hook up, the Charmings move into the Cinderellas’ home, a shared accommodation i.e. Northwest BC. 

This is where it gets interesting. Lots of Cinderellas and lots of Charmings, some in relationships, some not, all living under one roof. Like any living situation, there’s bound to be disagreements, some minor and some major. We’re all different, and in some cases, polar opposites. Some of us are neat; others messy. Some like to be social; others are more shy. We hear each other snore at night! But because we’re family now, we can’t just walk away from our problems with each other. We have to confront them, together, in a civilized manner with long-term results.

So, understanding that many Cinderellas and Charmings may all end up living together under the same roof (Northwest BC), let’s go back to the beginning of the story and figure out if there’s something we could do before the ball (now), to make moving in together easier on all of us.

As I see it, there are two possible scenarios.

In the first scenario, as each Cinderella heads off to the ball, they only have their own desires in mind. Maybe they bring home one Prince. Maybe they bring home a few. Maybe they bring home none at all. And once everyone’s living in the same house, everyone does their best not to blow up at each other.

In the second scenario, before they go to the ball, the Cinderellas get together and agree on what they want the house (our region) to look like. They set ground rules for new roommates and guests, decide what colour they want the walls, whether everyone will follow certain diets, bathroom schedules, if or when to update the wiring, buy new appliances, add new rooms, etc. You get the picture. They talk about pet peeves and preferences, to avoid blow ups in the future. And before they go to the ball, the Cinderellas agree on the type of Charmings they can all accept as part of the family. Then they each head to the ball with these criteria in hand.

This scenario prevents conflicts before everyone moves in together, and sets ground rules for any conflicts that do come up. As a bonus, when the Charmings move in, they’ll be more prepared. They’ll understand the type of people they are living with and the expectations that come with it. And as new family members, the Princes will be welcome. Their opinions will be valued and considered in household discussions and decisions. Isn’t that a pretty 21st century way of living together?

Now, I don’t know if a complete fairy tale ending is really possible, but at least in the second scenario Northwest BC’s Cinderellas (the belles of the natural resource ball/ local residents and communities) could write the story together. And the Prince Charmings (the corporate diegos /development proponents) would have some idea what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in these parts. And perhaps, just perhaps, Northwest BC will become the place where ‘they all lived happily ever after.’

Isn’t that a Cinderella story you’d like to tell your kids?

Power of Buying Local

By Tania Millen of SNCIRE

British Columbia's Buy Local Week, Dec 2-8, is just around the corner. Celebrate by buying your Christmas presents locally! 

When we buy products at a company that is owned, operated and/or situated in Northwest BC, we support our neighbours, friends and the regional economy. This intuitively makes sense, but sometimes it's difficult to understand the repercussions, so here are some examples.

The Kyahwood sawmill that just closed in Moricetown sells a product that could be bought by regional retailers such as building supply stores. However, the only buyer of Kyahwood products is Canfor, as apparently regional retail building supply stores have other suppliers – most of which are outside Northwest BC. This begs the question, 'If we (as local consumers) demanded Kyahwood products when we shopped at our local building supply store, could that have helped keep our neighbours in Moricetown employed?' Perhaps.

Here's another example. When you need paint for a house renovation or a new book to read, do you buy at the locally owned and operated store? Or the big box store? Usually we choose by price, right? But the smaller store can't purchase in as large quantities as the box store and often pays higher wages. So the local store sells product at a higher price, which often means that us consumers run to the box store rather than the smaller local business, thereby reducing the survival potential of local businesses.

There are many, many similar examples. Just consider the products that are available from local businesses and who they compete with. Then think about what your custom (buying power) means to those businesses and whether you would like them to stay in the region. Essentially, local businesses pay higher costs than box stores – from product to wages – therefore their selling prices are higher and as a consumer you end up paying more. But wouldn't you prefer to put an extra dollar in the pocket of your neighbour, than in the pocket of a corporate shareholder of a multi-national corporation? That's the power of buying local.

Thanks to LOCO for the info graphic below. 


Two more sawmills close. Now what?

By Tania Millen of SNCIRE

In late October, Northwest BC was hit with the news that sawmills in Houston and Moricetown would be closing. Kyahwood Forest Products - Moricetown's sole industrial employer - closed in October while the West Fraser sawmill in Houston, Houston Forest Products, will shut its doors in May 2014. Let's look at what happened.

There are two large mills in Houston – one operated by West Fraser, the other by Canfor – and each have access to a portion of the surrounding forest resources (Timber Supply Areas or TSAs). However, the wood in their TSAs is increasingly composed of rotting trees killed by mountain pine beetles. Realising that eventually the TSAs wouldn't support two mills, it appears Canfor and West Fraser struck a deal.

That deal essentially consists of West Fraser and Canfor trading forest resources in Houston and Quesnel, where they both operate, and each closing one mill. So in Houston, the Canfor mill gains forestry resources and will continue to operate, while the West Fraser mill closes. And in Quesnel, the West Fraser mill gains resources and will continue to operate, while the Canfor mill closes. A simple switcheroo that helps the remaining mills cope with the coming reduction in timber supply. This makes good business sense, but it will still be hard on the communities.

The Kyahwood closure is a little different. The Kyahwood mill is owned and operated by the Moricetown Band and produces finger joint studs for the North American housing market. Reportedly, the mill closed due to debt resulting from high transportation costs, both for source wood from Houston and to get products to market. But unlike Houston, which has another mill in town that will continue to employ residents, Kyahwood is the only employer in Moricetown. So closing the mill, which employed 71 community members, dramatically affects this First Nation community. Knowing this, Kyahwood is apparently exploring whether they could make additional products, presumably in the hopes of serving Northwest BC buyers, and lowering product transportation costs.

Two towns in Northwest BC, two closures. What's next?

A few thoughts come to mind.

Companies continue to take advantage of the natural resources that Canada is blessed with. We're good at exporting raw materials. It's easy. We're also good at manufacturing fairly simple products. However, the real value is in creating specialty products which utilize the skills of a variety of people and can be made in many communities. Yes, the 'value-added drum' has been beaten to death. So the trick in the new economy is to add innovation and technology – that's where there's high value. Simply one value-added solution won't work – we need industry players to collaborate and form a cohesive network of complementary products. Maintaining the status quo isn't keeping people working. So let's focus on innovative ideas in the forest sector.

Related to that is the need - now more than ever - for research that builds knowledge about our forest assets. New information will allow future entrepreneurs to thrive, thereby increasing the sustainability and resilience of communities. To that end, Skeena-Nass Centre for Innovation in Resource Economics (SNCIRE) is working with universities and FPInnovations – a large private Canadian non-profit forestry research centre – to research challenges specific to Northwest BC forest resources.

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Music, Money & Mojo

Trees logged in Northwest BC have typically been made into lumber but the potential for our resources to be so much more has motivated a handful of creative entrepreneurs to start businesses that contribute to the region’s economy - and the world music scene.

In the early 1990s, when Damian Jones and his wife bought and renovated a guest house in Canmore, Alberta, they ran out of money before they could furnish the place. With a bit of woodworking experience under his belt, Jones decided to build some of the furniture himself using old wood. A friend of his was tearing down a barn and Jones used the scraps to make unique beds and end tables.

What started out as necessity became a hobby and then a business when guests started asking if they could buy the refurbished furniture.

Jones soon started selling his work at a local interior design store, Stonewaters Home Elements and his pieces were so popular he struggled to keep up with the orders.
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When Jones and his wife relocated to Smithers in 2001, he started his company Harvest Designs, and furniture building from refurbished wood became his full-time gig.

“I love working with the wood. It’s so beautiful and full of stories,” he says. “And there’s something so enjoyable about putting something to use that would get burned or end up in the landfill.”

Jones now sells his furniture at Heartstrings in Smithers as well.

Most pieces sell for more than a thousand dollars each, many to repeat customers. Jones has a waiting list of about four months for custom orders and his customers may start having to wait even longer.

While the entrepreneur will continue to make furniture, he’s now putting his woodworking skills to another use – working for Rayco Resophonics, building guitars three days a week.

Jones - who plays banjo, mandalin and guitar - has taken a couple guitar-making courses in the past and wants to fine tune those skills.

“The guitar work is so much more challenging,” Jones says. “I find it so much more rewarding. With furniture, there is more leeway. With musical instruments, you’re down to one thousandth of an inch.”

Rayco Resophonics in Smithers handbuilds resophonic guitars and banjos, acoustic and electric guitars and Hawaiian guitars. The company also makes custom guitars, which have a wait time of approximately 18 months. The guitars are made out of different woods, including some local birch, and are sold all over the world.

“There was a need, so we started building those instruments,” says company founder Mark Thibeault.

Almost 330 guitars have been built and sold since the company started 11 years ago, selling for thousands of dollars each.

“There’s lots of bulletin boards and chat groups (on the internet) that perpetuate sales and support,” says Thibeault, a guitar player who has toured with various bands over the years.

“It’s a lifestyle choice,” he continues. “Noone’s making it rich but I get to go to all these great festivals (to sell guitars) and meet really cool people. I get to talk to them, hear their stories.”

In addition to building the instruments themselves, Thibeault and his coworkers teach others how to build guitars. One three-month program they ran taught youth at risk how to build their own electric guitars.

“They didn’t want to take a break. They just wanted to keep going with it,” Thibeault says. “It was incredible.”

Rayco logoThat’s not surprising considering how satisfying Thibeault says it is to make a guitar from scratch.

“Just hearing the music that comes from it when it’s finished, knowing that the little things you are doing along the way are going to make a difference to the way it sounds,” he explains.

Rayco will never be a huge guitar factory. Yet the rich mentorship and training experiences the company offers through its workshops and to its employees, which include some local youth, are invaluable.

“We provide opportunities for people to learn different skills. I see how it can affect people coming into a place like this and building instruments. They learn woodworking skills, math, marketing, organization and life skills - like just showing up for work on time.”

One regional resident who benefits directly from Rayco is co-entrepreneur and guitar-player Shane Neifer, who runs High Mountain Tonewood from his home in Terrace.

High Mountain Tonewood processes specially selected wood from the Terrace area for different parts of acoustic guitars and other stringed instruments, such as the tops (soundboards), backs and sides.  These products are sold to guitar makers around the world, including Rayco.

“The Terrace area is known for its high quality spruce,” Neifer says. “A special Sitka and white Spruce hybrid grows in a small area along valleys that slice through the Cascade Mountain range around here. It’s spectacular wood.”

Totally self-taught, Neifer never planned to start a business. But in 2002, unhappy with the guitar he had bought, he asked a friend about building one. His friend said, “You could do it.” So Neifer did.

“We have 45 acres of land,” Neifer says. “First I took a chunk out of a blow down. Then I got a forest license to harvest green trees that met the specifications required for this wood. Now, although I still harvest from time to time, I also try and buy logs from local companies.”

After experimenting and learning about which woods work best, Neifer now sells guitar tops to many of the best guitar makers in the world.shane neifer 350 x 233

“Almost everyone who’s written a book about guitar making is my customer. I can’t respond fast enough to the market demand,” says Neifer. “There’s great opportunity and huge potential.”

Similar to Jones and Thibeault though, Neifer doesn’t want to run a big company and manage lots of employees. Also similar to the other two musicians and business owners, he wants a profit but a big reason he does the work is for the satisfaction of creating something beautiful with his hands out of wood. 

While Neifer’s always had an entrepreneurial streak, he wants to keep his day job for the stability it provides because High Mountain Tonewood Company doesn’t come without its challenges. The work is labour intensive. Access to raw logs is limited, which makes the wood supply and the quality of that wood intermittent and unreliable. Also, log prices fluctuate often.

“If we could remove some of the barriers, the business could be much more stable,” he says.

Damian Jones, Mark Thibeault and Shane Neifer are just three examples of Northwest BC residents who saw the potential in the natural resources around them, seized an opportunity and started businesses. Take a look around you and just imagine the possibilities. 

Change mean opportunities and challenges for Hawkair

It seems Rod Hayward was meant to work with aircraft in Northwest BC – fly, fix and manage them. Since he can remember, he's felt connected to the big metal birds in the sky.

Hayward's grandfather started working for Prairie Airways in 1938, one of the airlines that turned into Canadian Pacific Airlines in the 1940s.

"I grew up hearing stories about the original founders of aviation in western Canada," Hayward says."My mother would often recount the time when Grant McConachie, the founder of CP Air, came for dinner when my grandfather was the CP Prince Rupert base manager in the 1950s".

Rod and propellerThrough stories like this and with the encouragement of his family, Hayward started on an aviation career very early, becoming a licensed pilot when he was only 17 years old.
The Terrace resident is now the general manager - and one of the original founders of Hawkair - one of a handful of aviation companies based in and serving Northwest BC. Interested in every aspect of aviation, over the years, Hayward moved up the ranks from pilot to mechanic to boss.

Hawkair was founded in 1994 as a remote area cargo service airline, which excelled at transporting freight and equipment to isolated mine sites. Commodity prices fluctuated in the late 1990s, however, and mines started to close so Hawkair needed to adapt. 

In 2000, Hawkair evolved into its current form - a passenger airline with more than one hundred staff, flying modern aircraft on several scheduled routes while continuing to offer unique charter crew flights to resource companies in western Canada.

"We started with good intentions," Hayward says. "But we've become the company we are today as a result of good people, solid infrastructure and a healthy dose of knowledge."

Besides its beautiful logo designed by First Nations Hazelton artist Roy Henry Vickers, Hawkair is well-known and well-respected for its friendly people, fun work environment, and generous community contributions. The company's values, listed on its website, include 'Community Involvement', 'a culture of fun, action and teamwork' and 'making good things happen'.

"Hawkair comes from the local communities – the owners, staff and most of its customers," Hayward explains. "It's part of the community and believes in supporting local communities. Yes, (community support) is a strategy to differentiate ourselves from the other guys. But it's more than that. It's about giving back."

Currently, Hawkair is focused on meeting the needs of the regional development boom.

"A healthy local economy is good for business," Hayward says. "We are big beneficiaries of local projects. Lots of workers are coming from elsewhere and we fly them here." But the road ahead still has some challenges.
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"The aviation industry is changing globally right now," Hayward says. "It's a mature industry but it's still evolving. Traditionally, bigger carriers flew bigger planes on more popular routes. Now they are trying to capture other markets, traditionally flown by smaller carriers with smaller airplane."

That includes WestJet. Earlier this year, the international, low cost airline announced it planned to start flying in Northwest BC and will decide to which regional airport in January 2013.

More competition is good news for local residents who will benefit from lower prices. But Hayward can't deny that the news is a little worrisome for Hawkair.

"Aviation is a high fixed cost business and managing expenses and revenues is already a balancing act," he says. Still, he remains optimistic.

"We've survived other airlines coming here before," he says. "Anytime there is change, one door open and another closes. Being a smaller organization, we can adapt more easily."

"We see an advantage to being here in the North," he continues. "We can react to the demands of projects better than anyone else because we are here, on the ground. If a contractor needs something, we are far more responsive."

Hawkair became a member of SNCIRE in early 2012 and Rod Hayward joined SNCIRE's board of directors in May 2012. Rod joined the board because he thinks the Northwest has a lot to offer and we need a strong voice to advocate for what we are offering. He believes SNCIRE is that voice.