Mill closures: threat or opportunity?

Dear editor:
Will our mill be the next to close? With pulp and paper production closures in Kenora, Dryden, and elsewhere in Canada, this is a reasonable question to consider.
I hear a lot of concern from the people I talk to that our town soon may suffer significant job cuts. The purpose of this letter is to explore the matter from an opportunistic perspective and empower the reader to take action to keep our mill operating—and our town a great place to live.
With pulp and paper job cuts all across Canada, I can understand Fort Frances residents being in a state of either denial or anxiety. Although the former may not be particularly destructive, it is far from constructive. The latter, however, can be very destructive.
My experience is that when people feel threatened and have their back against the wall, they often make decisions and take actions that worsen the situation. For instance, unions and management often perceive each other as opponents out to screw one another instead of two essential components of a functioning business.
However, if the Fort Frances mill were to close, local management and union members alike will be out of work. So we’re all on the same team here.
The cities of Winnipeg and Edmonton were in a similar situation a few years ago. The loonie was shrinking and NHL hockey was gaining popularity south of the border. Small markets like Winnipeg and Edmonton were having a difficult time making ends meet and were faced with the serious challenge to keep their NHL teams.
As we all know, Winnipeg lost their team while Edmonton Oilers are still playing hockey today. Why was one city successful and one not? What was the difference?
Here we are in 2005, and this time around it’s a raging loonie that’s put pressure on Canadian exports. That, combined with global competition in the pulp and paper industry, is pushing Kenora and Dryden off the map.
I don’t have access to the financial statements for our mill. I have looked at Abitibi-Consolidated’s financials and see that their share price is under pressure right now. As a business owner and marketing guy, I see a lot of opportunities at this juncture for a town that takes responsibility and plays to win.
Here’s why. . . .
With all the pulp and paper industry closures, supply and competition has decreased, which fundamentally benefits the remaining players.
In today’s day and age, company share prices are more a function of perception than reality. Is Google really worth $400+ per share and Abitibi only $4? If you considered reality (assets), certainly not.
I believe Abitibi’s share price and financial stability can be boosted with effective PR and publicity campaigns. And you can help with this.
Based on technical analysis, the loonie has clearly peaked against the U.S. dollar. As the greenback rally strengthens, Canadian exports into the U.S. market also should strengthen.
I believe management, union members, and all Fort Frances residents can unite to raise the profile of our mill and improve its performance. As a result, I believe we can improve job security and save our great town.
I was at Wayne Gretzky’s Fantasy Camp last month and was privileged to meet one of the 37 reasons the Oilers are still in Edmonton. It was unforgettable playing hockey with the “Great One” and other NHL legends, but I got the biggest inspiration from our team’s goalie, Bruce.
Bruce is one of 37 people who rose to the occasion, put his money where his mouth was, and became a partial owner to save the Edmonton Oilers. A hero to this day in Edmonton, Bruce also is now on a first-name basis with Wayne as I learned sitting between them on the bench.
I was living in Winnipeg when we lost the Jets. I actually experienced the Jets’ last win at the Winnipeg Arena—an exciting playoff game against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Jets ended up losing the series and that was it.
I still own a business in Winnipeg and have close ties. And since the Jets left, the city’s level of excitement and pride seems to have waned. Fort Frances faces a far more serious outcome if we allow our mill to close.
I challenge all Fort Frances residents to consider what you can do to help save our mill. I challenge management and union members to work together to objectively consider the viability of all aspects of the business and look for ways to work together to improve profitability.
At least this way, you’ll be influencing your outcome instead of hoping to avoid a swinging axe from head office.
I expect there to be a lot of discussion and feedback from this letter, and will follow-up with a second part after review. Although I no longer live in Fort Frances, my parents do. I encourage you to go into visit my dad at Brockie’s Jewellers or chat with my mom, or e-mail me at with your input.
Have an idea? Take action. Don’t wait for someone else to validate your idea. Friends and family are sometimes effective at talking us out of things we believe in. Trust your instincts and take action.
No one knows how close we are to losing our mill. Are we down 4-3 in the third period? How many minutes are left? All we can do is pull together as a team and play our best game—starting right now.
I don’t know how close we are to losing our mill. All I know is that we could be one publicity stunt, one stock awareness campaign, one new customer, one innovative production idea, or one whatever away from keeping it here.
Choose to be one of our heroes to save our mill and our great town.
Sincerely and
Craig Brockie,
Proudly born and
raised in Fort Frances
P.S. “Pay it Forward” is an outstanding movie that may inspire you. Consider renting or buying it today. You’ll be happy you did.