Its been said that there is power in staying connected to other people in your industry. My fifth consecutive B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI) Convention, held in Prince George last week, provided again opportunity to return with ideas to sharpen skills and stay abreast of a rapidly-changing lumbering landscape. The listed takeaways include a surprise at how few marketing and sales types were among more than 550 delegates who packed the Prince George Civic Centre for agenda presentations:
-The prevailing politically-charged environment these days seemed to shape tempered viewpoints from panelists on several fronts. Folks looking for Interfor President & CEO Duncan Davies to deliver pertinent softwood lumber dispute insights were disappointed. His confirmation lauding the work the Softwood Lumber Board is doing to grow softwood lumber demand did not excite. Fortunately a pointed question from the audience, asking why Canadian producers would support the SLB when a number of U.S. members are working to constrain market access, elicited topical response: “The tariffs are wrong. Whether or not the economy is helping to soften the blow, the tariffs should not be there. Inspite of trade matters, we need to continue to invest in our biggest market.” From West Fraser President & CEO Ted Seraphim: “Today, we’re not worried about the softwood lumber dispute. But if the market were weaker, we’d all be worrying about it. So we need to grow demand.”
-While there wasn’t a panel discussion dedicated to timely transportation concerns, Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau addressed the situation. He said CN and CP need to do better. He pointed to Bill C-49 (Transportation Modernization Act) but his reporting an improvement in railcar capacity for grain fell flat among an audience concerned with lumber shipments. From Beth MacNeil, Assistant Deputy Minister, Canadian Forest Service: “Without infrastructure, there is no trade.”
–Jock Finlayson, Business Council of B.C., talked about the uncertain, shifting economic landscape in this province. He referenced the impact of uncertainty on investor confidence and how Canada is lagging in healthy capital formation. He sees little upside in residential construction in Canada, while pointing to “fundamental organic demand for housing growth” in the U.S. 30-39 age group. He suggested recent fiscal stimulus in the U.S. is unnecessary and poorly timed. Presently 300,000-400,000 manufacturing jobs in the U.S. are unfilled.
-According to Paul Jannke, Forest Economic Advisors (FEA), the U.S. labour force is the single biggest constraining factor in U.S. sawmill production.
-It was refreshing to hear from B.C.’s new Minister of Forests, Doug Donaldson, but otherwise nothing noteworthy recorded.
-An excellent presentation by Kevin Pankratz, Senior VP, Sales & Marketing, Canfor addressed export markets and the global outlook. Interesting to learn that the R&R market is bigger than new home construction. Expansive growth in hybrid construction, off-site construction, and building automation in all markets reported. “Governments everywhere will increase focus on green building initiatives to meet emission targets.”
-Most edgy presentation (“Fibre Supply – It Is What We Make It”) goes to Diane Nicholls, now two years into her job as B.C.’s Chief Forester. In the aftermath of the Mountain Pine Beetle, she seemingly referees the constant fight for access to quality fibre, further complicated by the Spruce Beetle presently eating into the midterm timber supply.
-The Forestry Jobs for Today and Tomorrow panel might have been one of the highlights. Best moderator of the convention goes to Sandy Ferguson, VP Corporate Development, Conifex. It was interesting to hear industry (Canfor/Interfor/Tolko/West Fraser) is working to rejuvenate parts of the BCIT Wood Products Manufacturing Program I graduated from, which has been dormant since 2003. From Kara Biles, Manager Learning & Talent, Canfor: “Aggressively advocate for diversity and inclusion in your company; diversity is a competitive differentiator shifting market share toward more diverse companies.” Derek Orr, Business Development Manager, Carrier provided update on planning underway for a Ranger Program aimed at development/training of Aboriginal youth. Lots of sponsor traction for the program including Carrier, Dunkley, Conifex, West Fraser, and Canfor.
–Premier John Horgan seemed pleasantly surprised with the warm welcome before delivering his keynote speech Friday morning: “Thank you for clapping.” He deftly navigated the politically-charged minefield.
At first glance, the 2018 COFI Convention struck me as perhaps being lighter on content in comparison with past years. However, on second glance, it was rich in both content and opportunity, with plenty to digest. As one among four delegates from Dakeryn Industries, I again return from this convention with new and enlightening ideas. For us all, it was a worthwhile time to ‘sharpen our saws’.