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New operator, new jobs, new era for Prime Sawmill

Activate Tairawhiti and Eastland Community Trust have jointly announced the sale of Prime Sawmill to New Zealand-owned Far East Sawmills, guaranteeing the creation of between 50 and 60 jobs at the Prime Wood Processing Centre of Excellence by April 2018.

Even more encouraging, Far East Sawmills is already in direct discussions with Juken over staff recruitment.

Eastland Community Trust chairman, Michael Muir, says the sale signals a new era for the Prime site.

“We are delighted to welcome Far East Sawmills to Tairawhiti. We’re thrilled to have such a respected operator on-site, and that we can go some way to saving local jobs.

“This is a massive win for our community. And it must be said – there is no way we could have done this without the foresight of the community in establishing the Eastland Community Trust with a mandate to focus on the region’s economic growth,” he says.

Eastland Community Trust CEO, Gavin Murphy, agreed stating “the region should be proud it has the resources to deliver these sorts of results.”

Far East Sawmills is a subsidiary of Spectrum and is a fully integrated forest products business. The company owns the Tregoweth Sawmill in Te Kuiti, forests in Northland, a forestry harvest company and a transport fleet.

Managing Director, Wade Glass, considers the investment in Prime and the Tairawhiti region a strategic one, citing log supply, skilled labour and a proactive business network as contributing to their decision.

“We’re excited to enter a region with such a supportive and well-resourced economic development capability. We’re optimistic that our proposed improvements to the mill will result in a sustainable business and employment for locals,” he says.

The company intends to employ up to 60 staff to produce around 60,000 m3 of timber per annum, and will likely invest a further $9 million in the sawmill, initially upgrading ageing technology to improve efficiencies. Ultimately, Mr Glass says it is the company’s goal to run multiple shifts, eventually employing up to 100 staff.

Far East Sawmills will be replicating the product mix from their existing mill in Te Kuiti, targeting high-value appearance grade lumber for export to European and USA markets. They will also partner with secondary processors who intend to incorporate their processing into, or adjacent to, the mill site in Gisborne.

Though the sawmill itself is sold, Eastland Community Trust still retains ownership of all the land (22 hectares) and can now move forward with its phased masterplan, unlocking further jobs on site and improving the value of the region’s forestry stocks.

Activate Tairawhiti chairman, John Rae, says the organisation is excited about the next steps.

Mr Rae confirmed Activate Tairawhiti is in advanced discussions with a second wood processor interested in establishing its business at Prime. He says securing an operator for the sawmill will now fast-track those conversations and, he expects, others.

This is the second investment at the Prime site with the Wood Engineering business on the same site currently employing 15 staff and working to prove up its technology.

“Until ECT and Activate Tairawhiti got involved, Prime lay dormant. But, thanks to the hard work of our team and the contractors on site over the past 18 months, we are continuing to realise the potential of the wood processing centre of excellence as a strategic community asset.”


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