No immediate changes to employees, contractors, suppliers, customers or other stakeholders planned, says company
A hardwood sawmill in Huntsville has a new owner.
Huntsville Forest Products, a subsidiary of Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, officially acquired the mill on Old North Road from Rayonier Advanced Materials on Oct. 19.
The company also acquired Rayonier’s Huntsville forestry division, which supplies the sawmill with sawlogs from the French Severn Forest, Algonquin Forestry Authority and other area Crown forest entities.
“We saw it as a great opportunity to grow the business, bring new and talented people onto the team, and expand our capacity,” Malcolm Cockwell, a forester and managing director for Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve, told this newspaper.
The mill will add 30 million board feet of annual hardwood lumber production capacity to the company.
No material changes to employees, contractors, suppliers, customers or other stakeholders were immediately planned.
The mill currently employs roughly 40 staff.
Cockwell noted the company has operated its Haliburton Forest Products sawmill in Haliburton for roughly 11 years, and launched its Almaguin Forest Products sawmill in South River in 2019.
“We were always interested in the Huntsville sawmill because of the historic connection between it and our private lands in Haliburton,” said the former Huntsville resident. “So, when we found it was, potentially, for sale, we were very interested.”
He said the company saw the Huntsville mill as an important asset.
“Huntsville has been a pretty respected and productive operation since the 1970s when it was built,” he said. “We see it as the leading facility within our group.”
The company would now have production capacity of 40 million board feet of hardwood lumber annually, while continuing to contribute to regional hardwood forest management, and employing roughly 140 staff with more than 100 contractors supplying raw materials.
Cockwell commented that a consolidated hardwood lumber business in Ontario was an exciting opportunity.
“There are advantages that come from scale,” he said. “It’s a global economy and there are a lot of challenges in functioning within a global economy. But there are a lot of opportunities, too.”
He said the company believed that, if it could grow to a certain scale, it would become a more efficient, competitive and sustainable business to the benefit of the company, employees and community.
“I think everybody can look forward to having a stable and, I’d like to think, entrepreneurial and successful business running that facility, so there is some long-term confidence that we’re going to be there and we’re going to keep growing,” he said.
He added that forestry remained a foundational and vibrant industry in Huntsville and Muskoka, though it was perhaps not as noticeable as others.
Natural resources, agriculture and related production, according to the District of Muskoka’s 2019 Economic Development and Community Profile, was one of the region’s 10 key occupations and employed roughly three per cent of the labour force.
And Cockwell argued forestry complemented other area industries, such as tourism, as it, too, depended on healthy forests.
“If we don’t take care of the forest as we manage it, Huntsville Forest Products won’t be in business very long,” he said. “It’s in our best interest to keep it going.”
The sawmill acquisition does not include the former flooring plant previously severed from the property.