Tolko Industries mill in Kelowna, B.C., to close permanently Jan. 8 – CBC.ca

Tolko Industries\ mill in Kelowna, B.C., to close permanently Jan. 8 - CBC.ca
Tolko confirms Kelowna mill closure is permanent – Kelowna News
After months of job cuts and bad news, employees at Tolko Industries' Kelowna mill learned on Friday the mill will close permanently Jan. 8.

In a statement from the company, vice-president Troy Connolly blamed the closure on high log prices which make the mill's products uncompetitive.

“On days like these, our hearts are heavy as we think of our colleagues and friends,” Connolly said. “We know our people in Kelowna have done everything in their power to make the mill successful. They have gone above and beyond. Sadly, this has nothing to do with them or their efforts. Unfortunately, with B.C. log costs, the mill is no longer cost-competitive.”

B.C. forestry company Tolko shutters its Kelowna sawmill

"We know our people in Kelowna have done everything in their power to make the mill successful," Connolly said. "They have gone above and beyond.

Tolko mill in Kelowna to permanently close in 2020

"Sadly, this has nothing to do with them or their efforts. Unfortunately, with B.C. log costs, the mill is no longer cost-competitive," he said.

In a press release, the company said Friday’s announcement “will allow employees at the mill to move forward with their lives in certainty.”

The news comes with 127 employees at Tolko's Kelowna mill on indefinite layoff since August. Earlier in the year the company permanently eliminated an entire second shift of 90 workers.  

The Vernon-based forestry company closed the mill in September for an “indeterminate period” due to high log costs and poor market conditions.

Union president Pat McGregor, said the United Steelworkers Local 1-423 was busy handling questions about  severance pay details for the Tolko employees Friday. They also want to know if they can access a $69-million B.C. government program recently created to aid job transition for Interior forest industry workers.

Tolko’s president and CEO, Brad Thorlakson, said the mill’s remaining 127 employees were informed about the decision Friday.

"We have good benefits plans so dentists will be affected. Doctors will be affected. It's quite a blow to the community," he said.

The mill, which was acquired by Tolko in 2004 as part of the purchase of Riverside Forest Products, has operated in Kelowna since 1932.

President and CEO Brad Thorlakson said the permanent closure is a difficult decision for owners of the mill which has been in operation since the 1930s.

On Friday, Tolko announced it will permanently shutter its Kelowna division on Jan. 8. Postmedia file photo

"Our thoughts are with impacted employees in Kelowna," Thorlakson said, adding they will be provided with detailed information on severance packages and benefits.

The company had already reduced operations at the mill to a single shift in May at the cost of 90 jobs.

Where possible, employees will be offered positions at other Tolko locations or assistance in career transition.

Over the summer, Tolko also permanently closed its Quest sawmill in Quesnel with the loss of 150 jobs.

Thorlakson said the mill produced highly quality stud lumber for the North American and export markets.

The permanent closure of the Kelowna mill comes near the end of a year in which, according to provincial estimates, approximately 6,000 workers, 25 mills in 22 communities have been affected by closures, layoffs or shift reductions.

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In a news release, officials say the decision was made after carefully examining contributing factors such as log costs, market conditions and cumulative policy burden.

“At this time, our thoughts are with impacted employees in Kelowna,” says president and CEO Brad Thorlakson.

“This is a difficult decision. The Kelowna mill has been in operation since the 1930s and has contributed to the community through job creation and many other economic spinoffs for more than 80 years.

"The mill has always had an excellent team that produced a highly regarded quality stud for North American and export markets. It will always stand as an example of what can be accomplished when ingenuity and know-how come together for a common purpose.”

Thorlakson says employees have been informed of the decision and will soon be provided with information on what to expect in terms of severance and benefits.

“We want to thank everyone at Kelowna for their many years of dedication and support and assure them this decision was not easy for us to make and has nothing to do with the quality of work or the caliber of people at the mill," said Troy Connolly, vice-president of solid wood.

"The industry is facing many challenges that are beyond our control, and tough decisions are necessary to ensure our future sustainability.”

He added the decision to close the mill is not a reflection of the hard work put forth by the employees, but rather the cost of B.C. logs.

The mill has had numerous owners since it was constructed in 1932. Tolko purchased the mill from Riverside Forest Products in 2004.

An employee at the mill tells Castanet he received a call from the company saying the indefinite closure will become permanent as of January.

Tolko announced the indefinite closure Sept. 12, "due to continued high log costs and poor North American market conditions."