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It is "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 be keeping work within the region, Oreti Community Board chairman Brian Sommerville said, even though dozens of people could be out of work.
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 timber products to more than 22 different 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. Covid-19 had disrupted its traditional model of exporting unprocessed sawn timber to Asia.
Because Niagara processed its timber into building products and had increased its supply into 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."
Of the more than 100 current Craigpine employees, about 53 had been offered work, and there were plans to recruit a further 30 new staff with a wide range of different skill sets — from general labourers, through to technical roles such as engineers, timber machinists and export documentation specialists.
After the closure of five sawmills across 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".
The volume of manufactured timber products produced at Niagara’s Kennington factory near Invercargill had almost doubled in 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.
"We see this Central Southland location as being a perfect hub for distributing our dry fuels and other key farming products."
Work had already started on a new distribution and packaging facility which was scheduled to 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.
Mr 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 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.
Ownership would be handed over to Niagara on December 18.
Craigpine was approached for comment but was unable to respond before the Otago Daily Times went to print.