The wood produdcts firm is lobbying for raw materials and training for its Hearst facility.

An October 22nd, 2009 visit to MNDM&F Minister Gravelle by Senior Columbia Forest Products personnel and Hearst Mayor Roger Sigouin is scheduled to lobby for confirmed availability of affordable raw materials and training dollars for the company's struggling Hearst hardwood plywood facility.

The upcoming Toronto visit is one of the high priority initiatives under way to transform the facility into a sustainable concern going forward. Aggressive actions are being taken on other fronts at the facility as well, including installation of lean manufacturing work processes and a potential discussion between company management and local union employees regarding the competitiveness of the facility's wage, benefit and work rule structure.

Gary Gillespie, Vice President of Columbia's Northern Operations, said, "Prompt execution of all of the Hearst initiatives are of the upmost importance given the fact that the next 6-12 months will be the most difficult for those wood products businesses still standing. Although the overall economy is expected to start a gradual rebound in 2010, the recovery for our industry remains at risk due to excess open capacity at lower cost manufacturing facilities here in North America and in China."

Gillespie, along with other representatives from Columbia Forest Products' senior management team returned to the Hearst plant the week of September 30th to assist in the rollout of new lean manufacturing work techniques and also met with local union leadership in an effort to discuss the union interest in opening up discussions on what could be done to make the facility more competitive.

The outcome of the meeting is that a vote will be taken by the entire union membership on October 18th, 2009 that could allow the local negotiating team to sit down with Columbia management directly after the vote to explore measures that could be taken to provide local membership support for keeping the doors open at the facility.

Since the beginning of the year, Columbia has invested in excess of $ 500,000 to upgrade equipment at the facility in addition to thousands of dollars in additional training and process improvement supplied by the company and outside personnel. "The 2009 company-sponsored upgrades will increase the facility's chances but I am convinced that these changes alone will not solidify the facility's chances for survival," said Gillespie.

It is up to the local employees to address the areas within their control that will assist in making the facility competitive as well. U.S. based facilities that our Hearst facility competes with every day enjoy much more attractive labor rates and work rules, which allow those facilities to compete and win in today's economy.

"It will take a strong, collaborative effort on everyone's part - the MNR, Columbia management and most importantly, the local Hearst team in the weeks to come to place our Hearst facility in a position to compete and co-exist with the competition. By working together and making the right, though perhaps difficult choices, I remain convinced that we can stop the exodus of jobs from the Hearst facility and establish long term viability for the facility, our employees and the greater Hearst community," said Gillespie.

SOURCE: Columbia Forest Products

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