NORTH BAY -- The Ford government unveiled a new strategy regarding the forestry industry Thursday, aimed at creating jobs and supporting economic growth.

The announcement was made by the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, John Yakabuski, at Columbia Forest Products.

At the manufacturing mill, staff are producing hardwood, plywood and veneer from chopped down trees.

"At this facility, currently we have 75 employees," said Ontario Woodlands Manager Dan Bowes. "In Hearst, we have about 230 employees and in Kitchener, we have about 25 employees … We're forecasting to grow."

To help manufacturing mills grow, the province unveiled its new 10-year forest strategy called "Sustainable Growth: Ontario' Forest Sector Strategy," set to support Indigenous, northern and rural communities that rely on the forest sector.

"Good jobs in this most-renewable sector help families pay the bills and put food on the table," said Yakabuski at the announcement.

Four key areas

The strategy focuses on four key areas: sustainability, putting more wood to work, improving cost competitiveness and expansion to new markets while creating jobs.

The strategy finds about 15 million cubic metres of wood is not being used and could be available for attracting investments in international markets.

"There's 71 million hectares of forest in Ontario -- 28 million hectares that are Crown managed, and only less than one half of one per cent is harvested each year," said Yakabuski.

Yakabuski said the forestry production slumped in the 2000s, producing half of the amount of timber now.

"This government recognizes it and our partners have shown where we need to go and the future of forestry can be brighter than ever," Yakabuski said.

Essential servce

The province deemed forestry as an essential service almost instantly when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

As part of the strategy, an advisory committee will be tasked with creating a plan to look at short- and long-terms goals surrounding the future of the industry.

"Forestry matters -- we need this opportunity and we need the Indigenous business leaders that I work with and the mayors," said Ontario Forest Industries president Jamie Lim. "We are excited about this."

While Columbia Forest Products closed its doors for an extended period of time in 2010, Bowes said the future is bright and that it needs skilled labour now more than ever.

"We're hoping that this strategy will lead to developing more young people to get into forestry," said Bowes.

Yakabuski said forestry supports 147,000 indirect and direct jobs in Ontario and generates more than $18 billion a year.