Town funds value-added wood initiative

The Town of Fort Frances will spend a total of $6,000 over the next three years to be in a partnership to bring value-added wood product experts here and help boost the economy.
Council voted in favour of pursuing this venture at its regular meeting Monday night.
While the initiative first was discussed at council’s Feb. 14 meeting, the matter was tabled until local economic development officer Geoff Gillon could be contacted for input.
At Monday’s meeting, Gillon stressed council should financially commit to the venture, but that was met with differences of opinion.
“I’m in support of the project, I’m in support of Fort Frances supporting it,” he said.
“It’s a project that allows the region to access expertise in value-added softwood so that we have Forintek and one of the representatives in the northwest to help companies in Fort Frances and the Rainy River District when they have technical and marketing issues they want dealt with,” added Gillon.
But Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft and Mayor Dan Onichuk said they had reservations about the fact Fort Frances was the only municipality in Rainy River District looking to be a partner with Red Lake, Dryden, Kenora, and the other communities in Kenora District that were on board.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Coun. Wiedenhoeft. “I think the future lies in value-added wood products. This is an excellent opportunity.
“But in your own letter, you indicated there’s a least 12 companies in this area that are involved in value-added wood products,” he added. “I can think of three in Fort Frances and the rest are in the district.
“I’d like to speak against this motion, not because I don’t think it’s a tremendous idea, and I do think Fort Frances should be the lead community in this venture,” said Coun. Wiedenhoeft.
“However, I believe that the district will benefit as much or possibly, according to Geoff’s statistics, more than Fort Frances, [so] I think it should be a shared cost,” he argued.
“I think Fort Frances should kick in the largest share, but I do think the district municipalities should kick in towards this very worthwhile endeavour, and/or the RRFDC should kick in financially to this worthwhile endeavour.”
Coun. Wiedenhoeft said he’d like to see the matter revisited by the Administration and Finance executive committee rather than Fort Frances pay the entire $2,000 a year.
Mayor Onichuk noted there’s too many initiatives going on in the region where “there’s people benefiting who are not paying.”
He argued it would be more fair if the matter went to the Rainy River District Municipal Association.
“They’ve certainly got the funds to do it,” he said. “The municipal association has got the funds to commit $2,000 and that effectively would mean all the municipalities across the district would be contributing.”
“I understand the concept, but I don’t know how we can get the outlying communities to commit, as well, other than move forward and hope that they do,” said Coun. Todd Hamilton.
“And that doesn’t always happen,” he admitted.
“If you could get the benefit without paying a nickel, would you pay?” asked Mayor Onichuk.
“I’m respectful of [Mayor Onichuk’s] concern. It would be nice if everyone put $10 in the kitty. But the bottom line is Fort Frances is a leader in the region,” countered Coun. Tannis Drysdale, who had brought the proposed initiative forward at the Feb. 14 meeting.
“It is a project Kenora understands their leadership role in, that Dryden understands their leadership role in, and I believe we should understand our leadership role in,” she added.
“We’re talking about $2,000 here. We have debated $2,000 here far more so than major projects that we’ve undertaken in Fort Frances,” Coun. Drysdale stressed.
“I see no reason we don’t sign up and pass it,” she added. “[Mayor Onichuk is] the rep on the RRDMA. See if they’ll throw some cash our way to help compensate us.
“But I think we should move ahead and make sure this happens.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” reiterated Mayor Onichuk. “But it’s just another example of us footing the bill for the rest of the region.”
“I’m going to vote in favour of it. I just wonder where this falls into our overall economic development plan,” said Coun. Struchan Gilson. “Since we don’t seem to have a plan, this just seems to be one of those things where we drop it in here, drop it in there, and can’t see where it fits.
“I think it’s a very good idea,” he added. “I just wish we had, as a council, an economic development plan laid out—where we’re going, where we’re going to put our money.”
As reported in the Feb. 16 edition of the Times, information on the program was forwarded to Coun. Drysdale by the Lake of the Woods Business Incentive Corp.
For $2,000 a year for the next three years, the town will take part in a project that has an estimated worth of $375,000.
Value-added forestry product experts, working under the company Forintek Canada Corp., will do feasibility studies, deliver seminars, conduct site visits, consult, and give information to entrepreneurs, businesses, and industry on expanding into value-added forestry products throughout the region.
Forintek Canada Corp. has received funding from FedNor and the Ministry of Natural Resources for this project, said Coun. Drysdale, adding the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. also is reviewing the project to see if it will contribute funding.