Bob Bortolin, vice-president of business development for the San Group, speaks during an event the company held Dec. 13 at its Coulson Mill. (Denise Titian photo)
As the Alberni Valley deals with the closure of one of its major sawmills, the new owners of another facility are looking for workers in their saw mill and remanufacturing plant – with an initiative to reach out to First Nations.
The San Group Inc., owned by brothers Kamal and Suki Sanghera, purchased Coulson Mill earlier this year and invested $45 million in an expansion and upgrades to the mill. The investment has allowed both the mill and the remanufacturing plant to expand their product base and run more shifts.
The San Group held a luncheon for its staff at Coulson Mill on Dec. 13., bringing together mill workers and special guests, like Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan and owners Kamal and Suki Sanghera.
Gary Collinge, Vice-President of Logging and Manufacturing, told the crowd that there have been positive changes since San Group arrived. A second shift was hired to run the mill and there have been 60 to 70 new hires since last spring.
The Sanghera brothers say they like to do business according to their tradition of family unity. They are reaching out to the community, including local First Nations, in keeping with this philosophy.
“We are all one family living in this world and we like to work together that way,” said Kamal.
The company has hired Tseshaht member Harley Wylie as San Group First Nations Development Director in an effort to reach out to local First Nations. They are pleased with progress in this area and have hired new Nuu-chah-nulth employees.
“We want to work together as a family and we want find people who are willing to work; we will hire them and we will train them,” said Kamal Sanghera.
The new company is not only helping to retain jobs in Port Alberni but are adding more jobs, he said.
“When we came to Port Alberni we saw lots of logs heading down the inlet and we asked why,” said Kamal. The company expanded the manufacturing plant in order to deliver an expanded product line.
“This company saw potential in the place and the people and they make it work by taking the resource and squeezing the highest value out of it,” said Mayor Mike Ruttan.
Over the past few months, upgrades to the mill and plant have meant more production, which translates to more jobs. They have gone from one shift to two shifts at the saw mill and plan on adding a third shift in January 2018. The remanufacturing plant will go from one shift to two in the New Year.
The San Group has their sights set on Western Forest Products assets in the Alberni Valley but, according to the mayor and the San Group, WFP hasn’t shown a willingness to resume production at their closed Somass Mill or to sell.
The mayor, the Steelworkers union, Somass Mill’s laid-off employees and the San Group are urging people to put pressure on the government to do what is necessary to save the forestry industry in the Alberni Valley.
“WFP is slowly strangling our community and we are calling on them to invest in us or sell – let the San Group take over if they can’t make it work,” said Mayor Ruttan.
“We need your help to make it grow; the community has to make it happen, we are only the business end,” said Kamal, adding they are ready to get to work.
There is a petition launched by USW Local 1-1937, directed at the B.C. government and Western Forest Products that calls upon the forestry company to restart Somass Mill or sell it.