Meet the Mayor
April 16, 2014
Last week I attended the annual Council of Forest Industries conference. We were treated to the opinions of world-class economists and industrial leaders in the forest and transportation industries and, I must admit, I found the opinions and prognostications realistically optimistic.
Meaning, of course, that while we live in a world that cannot be predicted with any kind of certainty, we have enough history to read the trends and enough skill to adjust our business and management practices to keep pace with the changing environments.
Most of the environments with which Chetwynd connects by rail, road, water, ether, or otherwise, seem to indicate respectable growth potential over the next couple of years. China, the big one, is expected to grow at about 7%, the United States at about 3%, and Canada at 2.3%.
Of course, more than China and the US fuel the timber sector of our economy. India, Japan, Thailand, and Korea are contributing increasing shares to our pay cheques. I was especially impressed by the assurance that our export markets need us less than we need them. British Columbia (read Chetwynd) has strong and aggressive competition in these markets from countries as diverse as Finland, Russia, and the United States. But markets and business environments are changing rapidly.
We have here in Chetwynd an example of a response to the changing business environment. Construction on West Fraser’s new bio-energy plant is well under way and can be seen from the Jackfish Road. This plant is an example of the trend to diversification in the forest sector that will contribute to the viability of the forest industry in Chetwynd.
And it is an example of the increasing diversity within the forest sector itself. Stuff that used to be burned, such as lignin, is being developed into high-tech materials with high price tags. And other products such as baby diapers are taking an increasing share of the tree – which makes a tree more than 2X6s – though I’m sure we’ll continue to need our dimension lumber as long as I’m around this exciting world. In the end, it might be the high tech side of the industry that writes the pay cheques for the grapple skidders and faller bunchers who will continue to work in our forests.
What does a Mayor and Council do with the growing abundance of information on the diversity and economics of industrial activity? Primarily, understanding the world in which we live informs the decisions we make from day to day. As we deliberate on street improvements and water main extensions we need to keep in mind that everything is funded by the revenues generated by the tax payers whose jobs depend on world trade.
Practically, Council must maintain a business-like approach to taxation. On the one hand, raising taxes is always difficult, but not raising taxes to keep pace with inflation will come back to bite the residents when some Council realizes that revenues no longer pay for the needs.
Merlin Nichols, Mayor