'They said it couldn't be done:' Harmac celebrates 10 years of employee ownership

By Ian Holmes
September 13, 2018 - 6:23pm

Current and retired Harmac workers share a laugh during a community celebrationIan Holmes/NanaimoNewsNOW

Harmac president Levi Sampson said their deep sea dock is a huge asset in accessing Asian markets.Submitted/Harmac Pacific

NANAIMO — In the eyes of many, Harmac Pacific pulp mill was as good as dead.

Ten years after its previous owner went bankrupt, the employee-owned operation in Duke Point is thriving and has “no plans to go anywhere,” according to mill president Levi Sampson.

He said analysts didn't think a group of employees and investors could scrape together the money to survive, never mind excel for a decade.

“They said this employee-owned model didn't stand a chance, it wouldn't work. Guys and their families were silly to invest $25,000 each, especially since they've been out of work for so long,” Sampson told NanaimoNewsNOW during a company barbecue on Thursday to celebrate the 10-year anniversary.

Sampson said the list of challenges was long and at times daunting: a global economic meltdown in 2008, securing necessary capital to upgrade the mill, and proving they could be a reliable supplier to their customers around the world.

Sampson said Harmac is benefiting from an efficiently run, upgraded facility and high staff morale. He said workers with skin in the game go the extra mile and sick days are sharply reduced from the previous regime.

He said $200 million worth of upgrades and $20 million in municipal taxes have been paid to the City since they assumed control of the mill in 2008.

“It's a success story for Nanaimo but a Canadian success story at the same time. You have 330 people who put their money where their mouth is and invested in themselves.”

He said a long-term contract with BC Hydro to convert the mill's wood waste to power an equivalent of 17,000 homes annually provides a “significant amount of money,” which helps offset the ups and downs of the pulp industry.

Wayne Hamlyn, retired Harmac mechanical project coordinator, was one of hundreds who showed up at the company barbecue.

Hamlyn didn't think Harmac had a future when previous owner Pope and Talbot went out of business.

“There were too many bills to pay, we didn't know if it was going to succeed in bankruptcy, we didn't know what was going to happen,” Hamlyn said. “It looked like the scrap man was going to take it.”

Hamlyn, who had a 45-year forestry career before retiring in 2016, knew Harmac was profitable.

He was part of the original group of employees who invested and was one of the few involved in re-starting the mill's operations.

“That's what made it, knowing they were there. Otherwise if it was all a green crew with people from the outside I never would have done it."

 

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