A South Okanagan mill is growing as others close, struggle

Bright spot for forestry jobs

Chelsea Powrie

A hard year of lumber mills closing and curtailing operations all around B.C.'s Interior has left hundreds without work, but the South Okanagan's Structurlam is growing and hiring. 

"We are welcoming those people when they do show up," CEO Hardy Wentzel said of out-of-work millworkers. 

"We've put out outreach to those various towns and specific firms that are closing down or are curtailing and letting them know that we are hiring."

Structurlam specializes in mass timber manufacturing for buildings and workplaces. It has manufacturing locations in Oliver and Okanagan Falls.

Wentzel says the call for manufactured wood products has skyrocketed in recent years, which is a switch from traditional lumber needs. 

"The supply and demand balance is more tilted toward us," he said. 

In March, premier John Horgan announced changes to the B.C. building code to allow mass timber buildings up to 12 storeys in height at the Structurlam facility in Okanagan Falls. Wentzel said that announcement has not yet translated into a spike in orders for their product, but he anticipates it soon will. 

"That was just six months ago," Wentzel said. "But we have a strong following of customers in B.C. and the U.S. ... the whole mass timber revolution has really been accelerating."

Structurlam has been seeing a slight uptick in applications from the central and north Okanagan, in light of mill closures in the area. But Wentzel recognizes it isn't a cut-and-dry decision to make a move, even though they have jobs available. 

"Even with some of the mill closures close by, it's a difficult thing to do. Today there's often two people working in the family, kids are established in the community," Wentzel said.

"But if people do want to come to Structurlam, obviously that skill set is a fantastic skill set."

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