The British Columbia government is promising up to $90 million over three years to support new industrial and manufacturing projects in communities hurt by the downturn in the forestry industry.
Premier David Eby made the announcement in Prince George Tuesday, where Canfor Pulp Products said last week it was closing the pulp line at its mill, eliminating 300 jobs by the end of the year.
The support program will take applications from all manufacturing sectors, but the government says the BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund is aimed at areas experiencing economic impacts from changes in the forestry sector.
The funding could be used by a forestry company to buy new equipment to support new product lines, for example, or by a company that wants to build or expand a plastics-alternative manufacturing facility in a rural community.
Eby said the forest industry in the province is facing a “huge challenge.”
“We need to be more creative with the supply that we do have to create more jobs for British Columbians. It is a challenging time, but it’s also a time of innovation and that’s exactly what today’s announcement is about,” Eby said.
“Those people in rural communities that see the opportunity for creating jobs in this sector … we want to support them, and this $90 million can go a long way to doing that.”
Applications for the program open at the end of February and grants are available either for planning or up to $10 million in capital funding for projects that can start within a year.
The money is on top of $185 million in the current budget for supports to offset any economic impacts from the changing forestry industry.
The BC Pulp and Paper Coalition says it is seeking $150 million in funding to help access slash piles and forest fire damanged trees in BC to help solve a fibre shortage that is plaguing pulp and paper mills. The value of this fibre is much less than “green” wood which is why the coalition is seeking government financial assistance to harvest the fibre.
Spokesperson Joe Nemeth says today’s funding announcement is like putting the cart before the horse for his sector of forestry.
“That fund is all about moving away from commodity to value-add,” Nemeth told CHEK News. “Investing in our manufacturing facilities. I need to solve the horse. The cart is sitting there motionless. So I’ve got this great fund, but I can’t access it until I get the fibre.”
In mandate letters to his ministers last year, Eby acknowledged that the province’s forest sector has “never been under greater stress,” and that change is needed to ensure the forest industry is sustainable.
Eby said Tuesday that he, Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey and Minister of Forests Bruce Ralston, met with some of the workers who would be losing their jobs as a result of the Canfor cuts and promised the provincial government is “there for them.”
“We will be reaching out to Canfor to have similar conversations with them, to make sure that this transition for those workers is … as painless as possible for them,” Eby said.
“And they transition into employment that is rewarding and supportive of them and their families.”
Eby is slated to speak Tuesday evening at the B.C. Natural Resources Forum, which is also happening in Prince George.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2023.