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Prime position to take over sawmill

The search is on for someone to fire up the former Prime Sawmill and fill up to 50 new jobs. As part of Eastland Community Trust’s $12.1 million plan to reactivate the former Prime Sawmill site, ECT says it is launching a national marketing campaign to find an operator for the mill. Source: The Gisborne Herald

ECT approved the release of $7.4m to buy the site last year and the trust’s general manager Leighton Evans said the latest move came on the back of securing wood processing company Wood Engineering Technology Gisborne Ltd (WGL) late last year.

It would be a key component in creating the region’s first wood processing centre of excellence, a wood processing cluster that the trust expects to house a number of sustainable businesses and create more than 120 jobs in the coming years.

“Since the Prime Sawmill was decommissioned in late 2010, it has undergone a regular maintenance programme to keep the plant functional.

“As it stands, recent assessments of the sawmill by independent forestry specialists Forme Consulting Group indicate there is potential to establish a significant business processing 80,000 to 100,000 cubic metres of mixed log grades a year.

“With further investment in the plant, Forme believes there is potential for the site to grow to process over 400,000 cubic metres a year.”

The sawmill would need a staff of between 40 and 50 people.

Mr Evans said the Ministry for Primary Industries recently provided data that indicated significant increases in wood availability in the East Coast wood supply region, while credible industry reports suggested the regional forestry harvest would increase by 50-75% over the next five years.

That would require a 30-50% rise in the forestry workforce.

Addressing rumoured supply issues for the site, Mr Evans said several forest owners demonstrated keen interest in helping establish a credible new operator in the region. Some of the region’s major wood suppliers had been approached and he was confident wood would be supplied.

“Local suppliers are looking to improve the sustainability of their businesses. Those we spoke to recognised a functioning Prime Sawmill offers an opportunity for them to diversify their market exposure and ultimately add value to their forests, enhancing returns to local forest owners. We’re looking forward to facilitating those conversations with a new operator.”

We’re looking forward to facilitating those conversations with a new operator.”

Mr Evans said interested parties could take confidence in those indicators, and in the approach the trust was taking in establishing the wood processing cluster.

“That mix will likely include wood processing companies, marketing and distribution businesses, and even tertiary and industry training organisations. The vision is to create a wood processing hub where businesses benefit from competition, cooperation and collaboration.”

Last year WGL, an NZ$9.4m joint venture between Wood Engineering Technology and ECT, took the opportunity to become the site’s anchor tenant.

Construction of the first of their plants is expected to be complete in time to start operating early next year.

Mr Evans said other parties willing to add value to the cluster were waiting in the wings.

“Historically, Prime has had its issues. But the very best advice tells us circumstances are aligning to create a great opportunity for the right operator. The forests are ready. The industry is ready.”

While the campaign would be national, the trust would be led by strict decision-making criteria.

ECT had approached potential operators previously but the changing international business situations of those parties meant they had been unable to commit.

“ECT is first and foremost a community trust. Whether it be through our distributions program or our direct investments, we’re committed to developing and growing quality community assets that provide a sustainable future for the people of the East Coast. Prime is no different, and must make a positive contribution to the social and economic wellbeing of the region.”

For that reason, he said ECT would be discerning about the operator and would focus on the credibility, capability, experience and resources they brought to operate the mill sustainably.