Canfor is moving forward with plans to build a new mill in the community of Houston, B.C., after it shut down operations at its existing mill in the community earlier this year.

The B.C.-based company, which has operations around the world, says the decision represents an approximately $200-million investment to create a manufacturing facility in the community of about 3,000 people, 300 kilometres west of Prince George.

Canfor says the new facility will have an annual production capacity of approximately 350 million board feet annually — about two-thirds of what the previous sawmill produced — and will be flexible enough to produce different wood products based on market demands.

Spokesperson Michelle Ward said once it’s operational, the facility is expected to employ about 200 people, compared to the roughly 300 who worked at the sawmill it is replacing. The company said artificial intelligence will be used to optimize operations.

More on forestry job losses in B.C.:

At least two years before new jobs in place

The announcement represents a rare piece of good news for people working in B.C.’s forestry industry, which, for much of the year, has been marked by downturns and closures.

That includes Canfor’s first-quarter decision to close sawmills in both Houston and Chetwynd, B.C., as well as reduce operations at the Prince George Pulp and Paper mill, impacting approximately 640 jobs.

At the time, Houston Mayor Shane Brienen — who worked at the Houston sawmill — said it was tough to measure the costs to Houston both in direct employment and through indirect benefits to other jobs and businesses in the community that were supported by mill workers.

And while Canfor said it was optimistic about opening a new facility in Houston in the future, Brienen worried about the gap between the sawmill’s closure and the facility’s eventual opening, which won’t happen for at least two years.

Canfor says it plans to begin demolition of the old sawmill in early 2024, with construction lasting 28 to 32 months.

In a statement, company president Don Kayne said the decision to move forward with construction of the new facility represents an “ongoing commitment to British Columbia and the Houston community,” and will keep the company competitive globally.

Forests Minister Bruce Ralston said in a statement that while B.C.’s forest sector is in a “period of transition,” Canfor’s announcement “represents an important step forward” for the province and the industry.

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