Linda Minihan looks to salvage more than just old cedar as she takes the helm of a North Island business weathering the fickle North American housing market.
Minihan took over the 15-year-old Port McNeil Shake and Shingle company in 2007 after receiving an offer from previous owner Don Orr. Business was hardly booming at the time and the possibility was real that if she didn't take over the business, it would close down.
“I was concerned for my own job, but also for all the other jobs. Some people have been here from the very beginning,” she says.
Minihan decided to buy the mill with the help of a loan from Ecotrust Canada Capital. Conventional banks weren't interested in the loan given the company's current sales figures, and the amount of capital needed was higher than Community Futures' limit of $150,000.
“[Ecotrust Canada Capital] liked what we were doing for two reasons: cedar is an environmentally-friendly material that can go on roofs and exterior walls without painting or staining or any chemicals,” she says. “And we are salvaging our raw material from forests that were logged up to 50 years ago, or from lower grade logs not used for lumber.”
According to the Shake and Shingle Bureau, an industry association, cedar shingles are the only renewable roofing material and have the smallest carbon footprint. One US university test also showed that cedar shingles, compared to asphalt shingles, can keep an attic 28ºF cooler during extreme summer heat.
Besides these environmental benefitis, the financing kept an important value-added processing facility working in a town that has seen its fair share of cutbacks in the forestry industry over the past few decades.
“We are very close to some of the best cedar in the province,” says Minihan. “It is better that the mill is kept in Port McNeill rather than be in the Lower Mainland.” She says it “just makes sense” to have jobs at the timber source.
Much of the mill's wood fibre is salvaged from forests that were logged decades ago, or from lower grade logs not used for lumber. Salvaged wood has become increasingly important to shake and shingle mills as cedar log prices have risen and availability has become more and more competitive. The slowdown in BC's forestry industry has only added to the cedar supply problem.
Minihan has recently secured a forest licence from the BC Ministry of Forests to salvage wood and has contracts with several logging companies, ensuring a steady supply of salvaged cedar blocks. She can cut up to 2,000 cubic metres of wood fibre over a two-year period with the provincial wood cutting permit.
“My goal for the business is to continuously be able to make a high-quality product with salvaged material that would otherwise not be used,” says Minihan. “We'd like to be able to run two shifts continually on both our shingle machines, like we used to.” The company is currently processing about 10,000 cubic metres of cedar annually, from all sources.
Port McNeill Shake and Shingle employs 12 full- and part-time workers in the mill and in their salvaging operations. Running at full capacity the mill can employ more than twice that number.
Minihan has been an employee at the mill for the past 13 years. She was originally hired as a bookkeeper, a job which she held with several different clients at the time. It was not long before her responsibilities began to grow and after seven years she had a full-time job managing the company.
The mill is currently facing challenging times, largely as a result of the US housing crisis. “Our primary market is mid to high-end homes in the US,” she says. “It has been, in the past, a very cyclical business.”
Still, Minihan is optimistic that demand for her green building product will remain strong. “It will be slow,” she says, “but we are going to keep on trucking.”
by Trevor D'Arcy with files from The Vancouver Island Business Examiner.
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