September 23, 2015
If you don’t work for one of the sawmills or for the pulp mill, or if you don’t know someone directly employed in one of these mills, you probably will drive by them day after day without giving them a second thought. Don’t be ashamed. It’s natural to be focused on those things that affect you directly. But let’s just consider for a moment how much you are affected, even if you never set foot in a mill in this town.
To say that the mills have a significant presence in our town is an understatement. Together they contribute over $600,000 in property taxes. When added to the District budget with the property taxes of the mill employees and contractors we can readily see that these industries form the backbone of Chetwynd.
The mills employ more than 400 workers within the plants. That’s a big number for a small town. And here’s a bigger number: those workers bring home close to 20 million dollars in before-tax income – much of it to be spent right here in Chetwynd in the grocery stores and car washes, for little league and swim lessons and, we can’t escape it, your own property taxes.
Those are the direct within-the-mill employees. Their numbers are approximately matched by the woods workers and truckers – also directly working for the mills though usually in a contract relationship.
When taken together, we have more than 600 people drawing their livelihoods from our forested hills through the medium of the mills located in Chetwynd.
It would be an interesting study for some UNBC economics-sociology student but we can be happy with less-precise figures. Many of those 600 employees will have a spouse and perhaps 1.5 children which will account for at least half of our community population. Half of our population sustained by the forests! Astonishing!
We can’t overlook the spinoff effect. Every service supplier in town derives at least some income indirectly through the mill employees. Our forests are crucial to our survival.
Here in the north-east we have been blessed with a high percent of spruce in the spruce-pine-fir (SPF) mix. While our pine forests have been beetle blasted, our spruce inventory is healthy and can sustain us as we see mills in the interior suffering or closing for lack of fiber. Also, as I have noted elsewhere, our sawmills have added a high measure of security to their Chetwynd operations with the addition of a cogeneration plant at West Fraser and a pellet plant at Canfor.
Our mills are facing some difficult economic conditions in the marketplace in both the US and offshore. Contrary to earlier predictions by the economists, lumber prices for SPF are at a three-year low. When this is combined with high log costs one can see that the margins are narrow, indeed. Pulp prices are also soft at the moment.
Don’t ever try to paint the forest industry out of Chetwynd. Without the trees, without the industry, Chetwynd would not exist.
Merlin Nichols, Mayor