Owner-employees celebrate 10 years at Harmac mill in Nanaimo

Owner-employees celebrate 10 years at Harmac mill in Nanaimo

WATCH: The owner-employees at the Harmac mill in Nanaimo are celebrating a special milestone today. It’s been 10 years since they bought the mill after it’s former owner went into receivership. Kendall Hanson reports on how employee owners turned the purchase and some challenging years into a huge success.

It’s a picture many thought would never be taken.

Employees lined up for a celebratory photo 10 years after they bought the Harmac mill on Thursday.

“It keeps going up. It’s hard to imagine it being any better as an investment it’s paid off in droves,” said Nathan Olson, a Harmac millwright.

In May 2008, Brian Rintala was among those pulling his tools out of the mill.

“There’s a hint of if it goes into receivership that the locks will be put on the gate and we won’t be able to get our tools out for a couple weeks,” said Rintala in an interview in May 2008.

For Olson, the mills closure in May of 2008 is still a painful memory. But that summer, he joined Rintala, other workers and investors to bring Harmac back to life.

He had to borrow the $25,000 from family. It was the biggest investment he had ever made.

“If I just got my 25-grand back, eventually, I’d be happy with that. To see that the share value has quadrupled and then some are just a dream in itself right.”

There have been ups and downs since but Harmac’s success has surpassed everyone’s expectations.

“With a lot of hard work with all the people here and the positive attitude that they have,” said Rintala. “It’s obviously come to fruition and we’ve done very well with it. Can’t ask for anything more I guess.”

The employees bought Harmac for $13.2 million. Since then, they’ve invested almost $200 million upgrading the mill, paid 20 million in municipal taxes and increased the workforce by 100 to 320 employees.

“It’s been a phenomenal investment,” said Levi Sampson, president of Nanaimo Forest Products, which owns Harmac “I mean at the time all the analysts were saying that this is not going to work. You guys are crazy for doing this.”

Sampson says they’ve overcome many obstacles and he says the company’s success has been its employee-owner model.

“It’s amazing when you see the dedication that people take when they have pride in their workplace and they own a piece of the company and like I say when the company does well everybody does well,” said Sampson.

The employees say their original investment has paid dividends both financially and in the satisfaction of bringing Harmac back to life.

Kendall HansonKendall Hanson

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