IT is some “pretty sad stuff” a nearly century-old Southland sawmill has been forced to sell-up, a community board chairman says.
However, there was relief in knowing its new owners would keep the work within the region.
Niagara Sawmilling Company Ltd confirmed it had recently reached an agreement with Winton-based sawmill Craigpine Timber Ltd to buy the company.
Owned by the Black Family for 97 years, Craigpine Timber had been an established timber company since 1923 and bought the sawmill from Marshall and Sons in 1970.
The business exported a range of timber products to more than 22 markets around the world, and was the first company in Australasia to be awarded Forest Stewardship Council certification.
Niagara director Ross Richardson said it had been a hard year for Craigpine with Covid-19 disrupting its traditional model of exporting unprocessed sawn timber to Asia.
Because Niagara processed its timber into building products and had increased its supply in the New Zealand building market, the company was able to expand.
“Although we will be reducing the Craigpine operation from two shifts to one, due to the continued expansion of the Niagara timber business, we are happy that we are able to offer many of the Craigpine staff new roles at our Kennington site.”
About 53 Craigpine employees were offered work, and there were plans to recruit a further 30 new staff with a wide range of different skill sets — from general labourers to technical
roles such as engineers, timber machinists, and export documentation specialists.
After the closure of five sawmills throughout New Zealand already this year, the company was pleased to be able to integrate the Craigpine sawmill into its timber operations and enable its “legacy to live on”, he said.
The volume of manufactured timber products produced at the Niagara Kennington factory had almost doubled during the past year, which meant 50 new jobs were able to be created.
“Further to the expansion in the timber business, I am also pleased to announce that we plan to develop part of the Craigpine site into a new distribution centre for our transport companies, McNeill Distribution and Tulloch Transport,” Mr Richardson said.
Both companies specialised in servicing the rural sector.
“We see this Central Southland location as being a perfect hub for distributing our dry fuels and other key farming products.”
Work had already begun on a new 7500m3 distribution and packaging facility which was scheduled to be completed by July 2021, and increase production by a further 25%.
While it was unclear how many staff Craigpine employed, the company claimed the Covid-19 wage subsidy for 117 employees.
Oreti Community Board chairman Brian Sommerville said he understood there would be 50-odd Craigpine job losses, which would affect the community greatly – but there was still hope.
“There’s a bit of work around, obviously after Covid-19, people thought things would be a bit worse but it’s looking better and there’s work coming out from local bodies and government bits and pieces.”
However, it would not be easy for those let-go staff to find roles in the region to match their expertise.
“I’m picking there will be some that’ll pick up work but there will be others that will find it really hard.”
While he felt for the Black family and their loss, he was pleased a Southland company was taking over and the work would be kept local.