LandKeepers News Archive
January 01 2009 | News Articles | Prince George Free Press
MLAs Pat Bell and John Rustad say the North in a stronger position than most New year will be a challenging one
By Arthur Williams – Prince George Free Press
Published: January 01, 2009 4:00 PM
The new year promises to be a challenging one for Prince George and the B.C. Interior, according to local MLAs Pat Bell and John Rustad.
Bell, the minister of forestry and range, said the Interior’s forest economy is likely to still be struggling for most of the year.
“It’s a very challenging year out in front of us, no doubt about it. I don’t foresee any huge improvement in the forest industry in the next six to eight months,” Bell said.
Diversifying into new markets and new products will help soften the impact of low housing starts and poor lumber prices in the U.S., Bell said.
“We need to diversify into China – that’s a big focus for me,” he said. “There is potential in the bioenergy sector, particularly the pellet industry is one with significant room for expansion in the short term.
“Now that that market’s opening up, there is real potential.”
Using wood waste which was previously burned in slash piles for pellet production has the potential to create additional harvesting, trucking, pellet mill and service jobs in the forest industry.
In addition, mining projects could bring significant jobs and investment to the region – if they can get the financing to make the projects move ahead, Bell said.
“The key one we’re looking at is Mount Milligan. I think it’s a big one for us… and if we can get into construction by late 2009 or early 2010 that would be very good for us. A lot of that will come down to companies like Terrane (Metal’s) ability to finance them. (But) Mount Milligan is a very bankable project.”
Prince George and the Omineca region has weathered the downtown in better shape than during previous forestry slumps.
“As we wind up 2008, we’re probably facing the worst economic challenge we’ve seen in at least 30 years – if not back to 70 years,” Rustad said. “But British Columbia has weathered it better than most jurisdictions.”
During the major recession and forest sector slump in 1981, the unemployment rate in the region was near 20 per cent, he said. According to B.C. Stats, the unemployment rate in the city in November was 5.3 per cent.
“Clearly we are in a stronger position today than in past downturns,” Rustad said. “In 2009, I believe we’re going to see some innovative opportunities in the forest industry. It’s amazing how many proposals have come across my desk in the past year.”
In addition to private investment, the provincial government will be looking to accelerate some infrastructure projects to spur employment.
“There is an opportunity for some accelerated work on the Cariboo Connector.”
The Cariboo Connector project is a provincial initiative to four-lane Highway 97 from Prince George to Cache Creek.
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