Kelowna News

Tolko’s expanding into the U.S. but say the new venture won't replace local mill

The Tolko mill site as it looked in May, 2019.

A recent announcement that Tolko is helping to build a new sawmill in Louisiana is just part of a geographical diversification of the business and not an indication it’s curtailing B.C. operations, the company says.

Tolko announced the closure of its Kelowna lumber mill in Sept. 2019 with the loss of 127 jobs. Ninety other workers had been laid off earlier that year.

Then, last month, Tolko joined in a 50-50 partnership with Hunt Forest Products in announcing plans to build a $240 million, state-of-the-art sawmill near Taylor, LA.

It’s their second partnership with Hunt – a new mill near Urania, LA opened in 2018 – and fourth in the U.S.

READ MORE: Kelowna’s Tolko lumber mill has shut down

“Kelowna closed because of several factors, including log costs, market conditions, and cumulative policy burden,” Chris Downey Tolko Communications Advisor said in an email.

“With these factors, the mill was unfortunately no longer cost-competitive. We are planning for the long-term, and by investing in geographic diversification, we expand our markets and achieve more stability for our employees and the company.”

Downey pointed to the rebuilding of its Lakeview mill in Williams Lake as well as expanding operations in two Alberta locations as examples of its commitment to working in Canada.

Construction of the Louisiana mill is expected to start early next year for a 2023 opening. At full capacity, it will employ 130 people.

“Louisiana was chosen because of its abundant wood supply, and proximity to the largest U.S. market,” Downey said.

“We continue to look for opportunities to grow our business, and as part of that process, we often engage in discussions with many parties to determine if they fit our growth strategy. We will continue to explore other opportunities that may exist in the U.S. market as well as those in Canada.”

In the meantime, it is slowly demolishing buildings at the Kelowna mill site and has begun work on a plan for the future use of the waterfront land.

READ MORE: Kelowna moving quickly to plan redevelopment of Tolko mill site on Okanagan Lake

The company announced, last month, that Holar Developments will manage the planning and redevelopment of the 40-acre site

Holar is owned by Timber Investments Ltd., the family business which also owns Tolko. It was involved with the development of the Ladysmith Waterfront Area Plan, Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos and Granville Island in Vancouver.

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