Located 6.5 kilometers east of Fox Creek, Millar Western’s state-of-the-art lumber operations welcomed some special guests for a tour on May 11. The new sawmill facility replaces a 27-year old mill that had been purchased by Millar Western from the Mostowich family in 2007 and lost to fire in 2008.
Local Edge: In August 2007, Millar Western acquired a lumber operation at Fox Creek, Alberta, comprising a sawmill, planer mill, kiln, timber licenses and offices. The acquisition added to their wood products operations a well-run, low-cost facility producing approximately 60 million board feet of SPF dimension lumber per year.
In August 2008, the Fox Creek sawmill was destroyed in a fire. In June 2010, the company announced it would rebuild the facility. A new replacement operation, with a capacity of 120 million board feet per year, started production in late 2011. (Source: http://millarwestern.com/.)
The fire that consumed the mill in 2008 was a major blow but, though forever etched in the corporate memory, it set Millar Western on a course that would see it build a high efficiency replacement mill on the same location, with double the capacity of the original operation.
“Like any setback in life, you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going,” said Mac Millar, Co-Chairman, Millar Western Forest Products Ltd. (MWFP).
The guests met at the mill site office. Following a brief bus ride to the sawmill and introductions, visitors were instructed on safety procedures for the tour, and then taken through the facility in two groups. The special guests participating in the tour included Minister of Alberta Environment & Sustainable Resource Development, Honourable Diana McQueen; MLA for Whitecourt-Ste. Anne, Honourable George VanderBurg; MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky, Everett McDonald; Fox Creek Mayor, Leora MacKinnon; Fox Creek Deputy Mayor, Mary Campbell; and MD of Greenview Councillor, Dale Gervais.
From Millar Western were Co-Chairman, Mac Millar; President & CEO, Craig Armstrong; Vice-President, Wood Products, Stefan Demharter; Fox Creek Operations Manager, Tom Thompson; and numerous other mill personnel. Also on hand were Brock Mulligan, Director of Communications with the Alberta Forest Products Association, and David Cooper of the Edmonton Journal.
Millar Western invested $60 million in the rebuilding project. In addition to the construction of a new sawmill, the project involved upgrades to the planer mill, the addition of new dry kilns, and improvements to the log yard and fire protection system, including the addition of an eight-million- litre pond.
Operations Manager, Tom Thompson, explained that the mill produces over 620,000 fbm (foot board measure, or board feet) of lumber every shift, or 125 million board feet in a year.
Over 21,000 logs are processed in a day, with the mill consuming 450,000 cubic metres of logs in a year. All the trees harvested to supply the operation are replanted and healthy, multiple-value forests are re-established under Millar Western’s sustainable forest management planning.
“It is the people we have that make it so successful,” said Tom Thompson.
He explained that the new mill had a tremendous start-up. Just 31 shifts after it began operating; the Fox Creek mill’s production surpassed its design capacity.
“We are proud of our people and very proud of our mill,” added Tom.
In addressing the group after the tour, Honourable Diana McQueen said, “When hard times and struggles happen in the industry and you rebuild, it really is a big deal – you can now see the fruits of your labour, and you have all done an excellent job. Congratulations!”
Much of the mill’s success can be attributed to cooperation among all Millar Western’s operations; intense training for all operations staff was undertaken at the company’s high-speed Whitecourt sawmill, which meant employees could hit the ground running when they returned to the Fox Creek mill. As well, many former staff returned for duty following the fire, providing experience and continuity.
“We are delighted with the project. We believe it is North America’s most modern lumber facility, and it could very well be the most modern in the world. It really is state of the art,” said MWFP President & CEO, Craig Armstrong. “I echo Tom’s words: at the end of the day, it’s our people, the entire team, who contribute to our success.”
According to the company, about half of the mill’s staff live in Fox Creek, with the balance living in nearby communities, including Whitecourt. Mayor MacKinnon said she was very pleased the number of staff who have made Fox Creek their home. “It’s very important to our community, and we commend you for that.”
The Mayor had visited the mill a year earlier and, since that first tour, noticed many developments. “It’s an amazing sight to see the improvements -great progress and it is very well managed,” noted Mrs. MacKinnon.
Millar Western is a family-owned company, and family values are the core of the business.
“It really is about the quality of life,” said Sawmill Supervisor, Darin Adamson.
Those values are evident in the mill’s many social activities. Millar Western hosts family events, such as a camping trip, golf tournaments and Christmas parties. They are also involved in the community, supporting curling and slo-pitch teams. And, with an average employee age of 35, the young Fox Creek workforce is making the community a place not just to work but also to raise their families.
“An ongoing joke we have here is that there are enough kids among us to start our own football team,” added Tom.
The facility operates on a four-day work week, Monday to Thursday. The sawmill runs from 7:00 am – 5:30 pm and the planer mill, from 6:30 am – 6:00 pm. The schedule is popular with employees, and helps with employee recruitment and retention.
“We try to promote a good work-life balance at Millar Western, and a four-day week provides employees with the flexibility they need to be with their families and pursue interests outside of work.” said Tom.
History: Millar Western has been in business for more than a century. Family-owned and privately held, it operates lumber and pulp facilities known for their advanced production and environmental control technologies and woodlands operations recognized for their leadership in progressive, sustainable forest management.
Millar Western’s forest products operations are located in Whitecourt, Boyle and Fox Creek. In these operations and the Edmonton head office, the company employs 600 people full-time and engages many hundreds more on a seasonal, contract basis. The company’s products, sold around the world, include softwood dimension lumber and specialty wood products, and hardwood and softwood bleached chemi-thermo-mechanical pulp (BCTMP).
Millar Western’s competitive advantages include a highly-skilled workforce, progressive forest management practices, technologically advanced facilities, leadership in product development, and customer service unmatched in the industry. On the basis of these strengths, they have built a solid reputation for safety, responsibility, quality and efficiency. Source: http://millarwestern.com/.
Mission: By profitably converting forest resources in a safe, responsible and sustainable manner into products that bring value to our customers, Millar Western will serve the long-term interests of our shareholders, our employees and our communities.Print This Post