We’ve done a lot of sighing and contemplating (and not a little work) to attract and retain doctors. It has not been energy badly spent. Success is happening. We needed to use the resources we had to attract a suitable medical-practitioner core, but we will never be able to say we’re done and quit the effort. Life will continue to move on and people will come and others will go. So, while we will continue to attempt to make our community attractive to medical personnel, we must also turn our attention to other community needs.
Recently Council and Administration met with CANFOR forestry officials and two of the three major contractors. The forest industry, without question the backbone of Chetwynd’s economy and the single largest employer in the valley, has its own set of challenges, many of which mirror the challenges faced by other public and industrial employers.
In simple language, one of the major challenges is to attract and retain a suitable, dependable workforce. Should we be surprised? Yes, frankly. Chetwynd offers a desirable lifestyle with many of the amenities of much larger centres plus the freedom of a smallish community and access to the natural environment that could be the envy of those wearing out their lives in the cities of the nation.
CANFOR, aside from being perhaps the largest employer in the area, pumps 72 million into the economy each year. That includes 55 million spent on logging alone. The 55 million covers such expenses as payment for road construction and maintenance and the services of the logging contractors. The contractors, in turn, have to pay their operators and the owner operators behind the wheels of the log trucks delivering the fibre to the mill.
It is an enormously complex operation. Cut blocks have to be laid out and roads surveyed and built in time for the bunchers and skidders to move on site to start the harvest without down time for the contractors. We folks on the street only see those muscular trucks rolling through town to the mill weighed down with tons of fibre to be converted to boards – and the equally muscular vehicles hauling to product to market. Truly, Chetwynd is a community forever in debt to the wheel.
CANFOR provides 212 direct jobs in forestry plus another 174 direct jobs in the mill. That’s big. Of the 212 employees, 92 call home somewhere else – Dawson Creek, Quesnel, maybe Nanaimo. Mayor and Council think those numbers should change a bit. We’d like to see the per cent of local workers move in the direction of 100%.
We recognize that there are many reasons for families to remain in location while one of the spouses works away from home. Perhaps it is not the right time to sell a home. Perhaps there are not enough suitable home sites available in the vicinity of Chetwynd. Perhaps there are other reasons.
Whatever the reason, we all need to work toward making our community irresistible.
Merlin Nichols is the Mayor of Chetwynd. His column, Mayor's Report, will appear weekly in the regional edition of the Alaska Highway News on Thursdays.