Former Lone Butte Fire Chief Mike Collinge stopped by Exeter Forest and Marine on July 3 where manager Pierre Dion helped him find a new chainsaw. Collinge is a Norbord employee and said his two year retirement plan was recently changed to a two month plan following Norbord’s closure annoucement. Raven Nyman photo.

Local business owner predicts major impact following mill closures

‘The whole situation is quite bleak’

Pierre Dion has been doing business in the South Cariboo for decades and thinks the recent mill closures and curtailments are the next closest thing to a disaster for the area. Dion is the store manager of Exeter Forest and Marine Sales Ltd in 100 Mile House but previously owned the business himself for 35 years before selling this January.

“I think it’s going to be really tough on business and really tough on the community,” he said of the recent closures and curtailments. “We’re definitely going to see a major impact, there are numerous concerns.”

Dion is quite familiar with the forest industry and feels that the number of locals affected by the recent closures and curtailments is much higher than the actual number of employees laid off. Dion expects closer to 1,600 people will be impacted by the changes, but to what effect, he doesn’t know. He wants others to look at the whole picture and remember all the equipment operators, repair vehicles, and other workers who will be affected by a struggling forest industry.

“Probably over half our staff are directly impacted by either husbands or wives in the industry,” he said. “[There are] huge concerns because most households are dual income so this puts a huge strain on them. Many are contemplating moving or their husbands going out of town for work. The whole situation is quite bleak.”

Read more: Business as usual: local owners respond to recent mill closures

“With a ratio of 10 to 1 and the trickle down effect—I do expect a very significant slow down in the near future and definitely a more noticeable slow down in September when we have the out of town people going back home,” Dion explained. “I think we’re definitely gonna be stabilizing at a far lower rate than what we’re accustomed to.”

Nothing is looking good, said Dion. He said he hopes the provincial government is paying really close attention to what’s going on in the South Cariboo: “I hope that everybody is kind of looking at this aggressively.”

“I expect a significant impact even in our business,” he added. “The logging industry is a primary industry in 100 Mile, by far. We went through a slowdown in ‘08 and we’re thinking…. it won’t be bad, but you know what? It is bad. It’s not a good thing and I’m hoping that we’re getting some support in the background for sure.”

Despite the rising number of mills closed within B.C., Dion maintains that the forestry industry isn’t going anywhere.

“The forest industry is not going to disappear. It’ll always be a major industry.”

“We need to diversify,” Dion noted, “But [that is] easier said than done.”

Related: West Fraser announces the permanent closure of Chasm sawmill

Dion is semi-retired now, he said, and feels sorry for those who have been directly affected in the forest industry.

“My kids are in the industry,” he said, noting that many mill employees affected by the shutdowns are individuals he is used to seeing regularly. ”There are the guys we see every day, see their kids every day, [it’s] not good. Hopefully, the council can do something and provincially, I hope these guys are awake.”

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