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CORNER BROOK — As Corner Brook Pulp and Paper prepares to take another step forward in making its operations more viable, Mayor Charles Pender says the city must still keep its focus on diversifying its economy.
The pulp and paper mill is still in a struggling industry, but will soon receive a loan from the provincial government to help lower its operational costs.
While the province earmarked $90 million in last spring’s budget, Finance Minister Tom Marshall indicated Wednesday that the actual total amount of the financial assistance package is $110 million. The other $20 million is expected to be included the 2014 provincial budget.
Pender said he was thrilled to hear earlier this week that the paper company had come to an agreement with the last of its eight labour unions, a stipulation government required before engaging in the process of finalizing the assistance deal.
“As a city, we are elated because there are several hundred jobs at the mill that are worth, I do believe, over $100 million in income to the provincial economy,” said Pender, adding there are numerous outlying communities directly dependent on the forestry industry that will also benefit from a more stable situation at the mill.
The paper mill is not the major employer it once was and the uncertainty in recent years has created a stronger realization that the region needs to generate more economic opportunities outside the forest industry. Pender said some of those opportunities lie in creating more activity at the port, continuing to grow local post-secondary education institutions and hoping more businesses choose to set up shop in the area.
“What we’re lacking right now is an industrial base other than Corner Brook Pulp and Paper,” he added, noting that the fishery has downsized and other industrial enterprises such as the city’s gypsum and cement plants are either no more or do not employ the numbers they once did.
With the mill’s future now a little brighter, albeit still uncertain, Pender said there may be an opportunity to revisit ideas that involve the paper company as a partner. Those include the district heating project the city had discussed years ago, but has been shelved; and sewage treatment, since the city’s main sewage outfalls are near the mill property.
“There are a whole host of opportunities,” said Pender. “Now that we have some certainty the mill is going to be operating for a while, maybe we can look at some of these projects.”
In the meantime, he commended the employees, the company and government for doing all they can to help keep the paper mill running for as long as possible.
“The fact this mill is still standing after close to 90 years, that speaks volumes towards not only the efficiency of the mill, but the contributions of the local workers and management and everyone working together to keep this mill going,” he said. “Hopefully, there’s going to be many more years down there yet.”