One Port Alberni business that did not let the coronavirus pandemic get in the way of progress was San Group.
The forestry company, headquartered in Surrey, has numerous irons in the fire in Port Alberni, and bills needed to be paid, Kamal Sanghera said.
In the past three months, San Group purchased and restarted a specialty sawmill (the former Chalwood Products mill on Hector Road), started installing state-of-the-art machinery at its remanufacturing site beside Paper Excellence paper mill, and continued construction of a second sawmill at the company-owned Coulson site. In the meantime, COVID-19 restrictions happened, landscaping thefts occurred twice and a fire destroyed part of a building at the reman plant.
“We’re finding how to survive,” Sanghera said. We’re finding how to look out of the box.”
With all the moving parts San Group has in the Alberni Valley, they will be able to provide lumber and value-added product from harvest to home. Their three mills can handle any fibre, from four inches in diameter to 40 feet in length, and utilize lower quality fibre for chipping too.
“San Group is creating a whole new way of looking at the industry,” former Port Alberni mayor Mike Ruttan said.
They are bringing in brand new equipment with new technology, like a “log MRI” that will be able to tell them the quality and content of a log, Sanghera said.
When B Mill opened at the end of May, it was the first time a new sawmill opened in British Columbia. Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns applauded the investment the Sangheras are making in the Alberni Valley. “Too often we see wealth start in rural communities and leave rural communities, and jobs too,” Johns said. “Today we get to see jobs and money staying in rural communities and the pockets of the workers and their families.”
The company is bringing promise back to a forestry industry that has taken its share of hits over the past decade.
“To some degree, these guys are bringing back what we were doing 30, 40 years ago, but they’re doing it on a more efficient scale,” Port Alberni city councillor Ron Paulson said.
“They’re still offering the jobs. It is niche marketing.”
Paulson said the Sangheras have a similar philosophy to the Coulson family of Coulson Aviation: they choose a segment of their chosen industry and they set out to excel at it.
“They’re innovators in the industry.”
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions, who was at the opening of B Mill at San’s Coulson site at the end of May 2020, called their plans “the future of the forest industry.
“I’m really excited to see some of the machines they’ve purchased and are getting ready to open up at their remanufacturing site,” she said. “I could not agree more with the mentality that we have to get as much value as possible out of every tree that is cut down in our working forests.
“I think the San Group is really living that.”