Kyahwood Forest Products, owned and operated by the Moricetown Band, received recognition at the B.C. Aboriginal Business Awards’ Gala last Monday in Vancouver for the community owned business of the year.
The organization sent its general manager and a supervisor to the Gala to receive the award, but back at the mill the work continues.
“We run three shifts around the clock seven days a week,” Gary McKinnon, Kyahwood manager, said.
McKinnon knows exactly why the mill, which makes finger joint boards for side paneling, is so successful.
“Everyone that works here knows we have a target per day and they never hesitate to stay as long as needed to hit that target.”
Kyahwood is now fully owned by the Moricetown Band, where previously Houston’s Canfor mill was part-owner.
The mill has had to overcome some difficult times, with the most recent challenge being the economic crash, which paralyzed the mill for around 14 months.
During those months the community was noticeably depressed.
“There was a huge rise in substance abuse,” Barry Nikal, Kyahwood manager, said.
“As soon as the mill started up, that stuff disappeared almost immediately.”
Community leaders are undoubtably proud of their accomplishment.
“We probably have the lowest unemployment rate of any First Nation in the area because of our mill,” Victor Jim, Moricetown Band councillor, said.
The mill employs over 70 people and most of them are from Moricetown, so that the capacity of the village rises steadily.
“We do have people from outside our community working for us,” McKinnon said.
“But we try to keep our people employed as much as possible.”
Nikal, who was one of the original 13 workers, is a testament to the mill’s capacity to nurture its members.
“I started out as a security guard when this mill began,” Nikal said.
“We train all our people here to move up when possible.”
Kyahwood manufactures wood for markets in Canada, the U.S. and China.
“We found a market in China that would take all of our downfall and make picture frames out of it,” Nikal said.
Approximately 2 million board feet were exported to China in 2011.
The mill is operated in accordance to Wet’suwet’en protocol.
“Nothing is wasted here,” McKinnon said.
All of the wood chips are sent to a plant in Houston to be made into pellets and 20 per cent of total sawdust is used to heat the work area during the winter months.
Nikal is quick to point out the contribution Kyahwood employees make to the neighbouring town of Smithers.
“Every two weeks we have a payroll of $100,000 and everyone goes right to Smithers to spend their money,” Nikal said.
“Most of the people in Smithers, I think, don’t even know that Kyahwood exists.”
All of the maintenance and industrial supplies for the mill are also purchased in Smithers.
“We put close to $6 million into the Bulkley Valley every year,” Nikal said.
“And that number is only going up.”