Moving Forward with Optimism

Miramichi

Resurrection. In its simplest form, an idea embracing the idea of restoration of life, the onset of new beginnings and revitalized hope for the future. In many ways, this is how the city of Miramichi reflects upon its past and moves forward with enduring enthusiasm, resilient in its response to adversity, secure in the spirit of community.

With a population of 18,000, the quaint community of the city of Miramichi, situated on the Miramichi River, is the largest city in northern New Brunswick. After a few difficult years in the forestry sector – the mainstay of the city’s economy for over 100 years – Miramichi is rebounding through diversity and innovation, focused on the future. Today, Miramichi is the business and industrial hub for the Miramichi region.

Resurrecting the Forestry Sector

An affordable modern city formed in 1995 through the amalgamation of five municipalities including several rural areas, Miramichi unfortunately experienced the closure of all pulp and paper facilities in the area. The city’s Weyerhaeuser oriented strand board (OSB) mill, a Kraft pulp mill and a plywood plant were closed between 2006 and 2008. But today, things have turned around in this sector, and it once again becoming an economically viable industry.

Weyerhaeuser OSB was purchased by Quebec’s Arbec Forest Products in 2012 for $31 million and is now fully operational. Both the provincial and federal government contributed more than $17 million in start up assistance. With the opening of Arbec, jobs have been recreated in wood yards, harvesting and in wood delivery operations. The mill is expected to make more than $60 million annually.

“What Arbec was able to do was come and take an OSB mill that existed here for decades,” explains Jeffrey MacTavish, Director of Economic Development. “The product they make there is primarily used in the housing markets.”

Jeffrey explains that most of Weyerhaeuser’s product was sold in the south east United States. With the downturn in the housing market in the U.S., “we were hit as a global community. Now there is a resurgence of the housing market in the States… Arbec has been able to find new markets, so the timing was great for them.” Jeffrey notes that Arbec is operating at full capacity with employees almost at pre-closure numbers. “That’s very encouraging to see… We’re very proud to have [Arbec] as a corporate citizen here.”

He notes that every tree part is processed, making for a very efficient operation. Veneer plants take the bottom of the tree, sawmills keep the middle and paper mills take the tree tops for Kraft and fine coated paper. “We’ll be able to get back to that whole tree philosophy again and process our natural resource right in its own backyard,” adds Jeffrey.

He also relates that the Atcon plywood mill, which closed in 2008, has been purchased by Riverstone Plywood Incorporated and is expected to create 100 direct and 200 indirect employment opportunities. “They’re currently working on securing wood supply for that facility. They hope to have that up and running sometime this fall, maybe early winter, to be back into production.”

Diversifying for Sustainability

Jeffrey believes that the experience gained from operators such as mechanic and trucking services in the forestry sector during the downturn has reconfirmed the need to diversify and to place less reliance on forestry. “You have to have other economic engines going on,” confirms Jeffrey. “They’ve diversified, they’ve retrained their employees and recertified their companies… those service companies that used to provide maintenance work for the pulp and paper or forestry industry can now work in other types of facilities, whether it be oil and gas or nuclear plants.”

Aside from the traditional drivers such as forestry, production and processing, Miramichi relies on other sectors for economic sustainability – health care, education, manufacturing and certainly technology. “The technology sector has always been here in Miramichi,” relates Jeffrey. “We have a little niche here that nowhere else in the province can really boast.”

Indeed, for 15 years Miramichi’s New Brunswick Community College has been training graduates of its applied arts program as animators and 3D game programmers. These graduates utilize high tech skills to not only create products for the booming handheld tech market, but also to create jobs.

More people are becoming reliant on mobile devices not only out of necessity, but for entertainment, “which is really what’s driving that whole mobile sector,” says Jeffrey. “We’re trying to help encourage that sector by offering incentives to small technology companies that want to get their start here in Miramichi… We have a small incubation centre here to try to help those small companies [in the support] of their first two years of operations.” The city will provide these companies with a location, free office space, loan of hardware and some training money to assist in betterment of the company. In addition, “We offer networking opportunities through some festivals and events we host here in Miramichi during the year.”

Providing Incentives to SMEs

With a full range of funding options available, such as access to federal and provincial government programs and attractive small business and corporate tax rates, Miramichi is an ideal place to do business.

Miramichi’s Regional Economic Development and Innovation Fund encourages new business and supports its local investments, whether commercial or non-commercial. The fund is a provincial government investment of over $7 million to assist SMEs in the province to remain competitive and productive. To be eligible for funding, sponsorship is required through a department, agency or crown corporation. However, all projects will be considered if deemed to have merit by relevant federal or provincial government programs and services.

“There have to be the right people here for them,” adds Jeffrey. “The business case has to be there… We use it as top up fund. Everything else has to be in place. It’s certainly a great incentive and we’re very thankful that the province of New Brunswick has put that in place. It can’t be just about money,” he emphasizes. “The other assets of the community have to match up for that money to actually work properly.”

Providing Infrastructure

Every successful business needs a location with access to fast, reliable infrastructure in order to conduct operations as efficiently as possible. The city of Miramichi offers such with modern, well maintained transportation modes such as air, (the longest runway in New Brunswick at over 10,000 feet), highways, rail and river. “We have a beautiful river not only used for recreational purposes, but has been traditionally used as a form of transportation,” Jeffrey says. “Barges still come down the river… not a lot of communities can brag that they have three modes of transportation to get goods in and out of an area and having that fourth option in rail, which is vital to have in our community.”

Looking to the future of not only the city of Miramichi but the province of New Brunswick, Jeffrey remains optimistic. “There’s culture here and people come to see that. It’s part of what New Brunswick really is. If we’re growing the province is growing.”

So, when asked “How’s she goin’?” in Miramichi, the only true response can be, “The very best.”

December 14, 2017, 11:32 PM EST

Critical Thinking

It’s something all of us could do without in our lives. Unfortunately, this crippling beast decides to rear its ugly head when and how it chooses. There is no individual, society, or country immune to its devastating presence. Neither are organizations, most of which have or most likely will have, to stare this beast in the face. Its name is ‘Crisis’ from the Greek word ‘Krisis’, meaning ‘decisive moment.’