BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
EACOM Timber Corporation’s Ear Falls location fired up its plant this morning for the first official day of production in close to five years.
“Our maintenance crew was in at 6 o’clock, and started the plant up so it would be all ready for 6:30 when the other crews started,” said the mill’s general manager Harrison Wicks. “After they came in and had their safety meetings, they went to the floor and production started.”
“It’s been going really well. Our production target right now is only 50 per cent in the first month here of what we eventually want to do and they’re achieving that and then some here today, which is good to see.”
Since the mill shut its doors in 2009, there have been a number of start-up announcements that never materialized. The last time The Northern Sun News spoke to Wicks, he said EACOM was aiming for an Aug. 1 start-up, so Aug. 5 is not too far off the mark.
Ear Falls mayor Kevin Kahoot echoed Wicks’ sentiment about the air of optimism that’s been building in the community lately with the creation of more and more jobs.
“I think it boosts community morale. There’s a renewed optimism.”
He says the housing market hasn’t changed much yet in Ear Falls, but expects it might take an upward turn for sellers as the year progresses.
“I don’t think the market’s moved too much, but I think what we’re seeing is the reasonably priced houses are moving quickly. Those houses aren’t sitting around for too long,” said Kahoot. “Once we see the second wave of hiring, it might start to move a little more.”
But he’s sure other local businesses will benefit.
“What it really does is it keeps people in the community. If more people are employed, even part time, they won’t be heading to Dryden or Winnipeg as much to shop. It boosts the local economy. These people will be spending more in town.”
Right now, Wicks says about 40 unionized employees and about 10 staff work at the mill. The plan is to keep the crews on a day shift and ramp up to about 60 employees in 2015.
“In the fall, when we get into October, November, we’ll assess and we’re hoping to go to the double shift in early 2015. That will depend how the first crew comes along; we want to make sure everybody here is trained and up to speed before we start bringing new people in to train them.”
The mill will focus on producing about 95 per cent nine-foot logs and about five per cent eight-foot logs – a change from past production when eight-foot logs were more popular. There’s currently a demand in the marketplace for nine-foot material as well as a premium price attached to it.