Nobody in the forest industry has a firm handle on where the seminal B.C. industry is going in the next 10 years. It is general consensus around the Council of Forest Industries table that the tree business is about to grow in directions no one could have imagined even a decade ago, which is exactly why they hired James Gorman to be their new president and CEO.
Longtime COFI boss John Allen stepped down in spring, departing the provincewide industry agency at an exciting time. The global recession that crushed some forest companies and seriously impaired all forest companies was over. The bread-and-butter lumber sector was not fully recovered, but the storm was clearly over. Enter Gorman.
"We've got an industry coming out of the worst recession it has ever seen. It is redesigning and reinventing itself. Maybe it's time to reengineer our own organization. The timing was perfect," said Nick Arkle, chair of the COFI board and a principal manager with Gorman Brothers Lumber (no relation to the new CEO), as to why a respected bureaucrat - a deputy minister in both the Education and Advanced Education ministries over the years - earned the position over a number of industry-connected candidates.
"The caliber of people who applied for this job indicated to us just how alive and well this industry is," said Arkle. "It was because we wanted a fresh set of eyes with the appropriate skill set, an aptitude and attitude, [that settled the hiring committee] on James."
Gorman was hired on Sept. 16 and up until now has felt like "he is drinking from a fire hose" gathering in all the information leading up to this week's community dinner and stakeholder meetings in Prince George. In addition to meeting a host of forestry executives, students in forestry-related fields, municipal government officials and community leaders he also had direct sessions with Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson - all his years in government making him completely at ease in those latter meetings.
With the Canada/U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement up for renewal soon, harvesting tenure models to reform, a looming labour shortage, Asian markets to maintain and grow, emerging uses for wood from energy pellets to microscopic wood-plastics research leading towards a new set of forestry products, technological advancement in sawmilling, and the short-term timber supply numbers to crunch in the aftermath of the Mountain Pine Beetle, Gorman has plenty of issues to haggle over with any number of mayors and ministers.
"Government recognizes and understands how important this industry is to communities and across B.C.," Gorman said. "My job is, in part, to make that bridge between industry and government to both strengthen the industry but also the benefits of the industry to those communities where forestry resides."
Gorman said he was collecting the priority lists from COFI member companies, from municipalities, from Chambers of Commerce and other community representation groups to "look for win-win-win situations" and focus on those issues, during his early days at the helm of the council.
"You surround yourself with people who have that great policy depth," he said. "We have a tremendous amount of that depth within our industry and our communities. I don't have to provide that, I have to work to bring that forward."
Arckle said COFI itself was going to great efforts to properly arrange their wish-list. "If you have 25 priorities, you have no priorities," he said. He pointed the industry finger squarely on the short-term timber supply as their No. 1 key issue, with tenure reform an attached secondary issue. All other issues have to flow from the resolutions they achieve on those two primary files.
Gorman estimated he would be in Prince George at least once a month to learn the north-central way of doing forestry business, and to foster relations for COFI.