AV Nackawic looking to build relationship with Nackawic-Millville

Representatives of AV Group, Nackawic-Millville's largest employer, attended council on Monday, March 6, in an effort to strengthen ties between the AV Nackawic mill and the community.

"We're trying to engage the community," said John Howell, AV Group mill manager at AV Nackawic.

Howell, accompanied by AV Group government relations and communications director Mike Legere, shared a PowerPoint presentation about the mill, its product, market and ownership.

Howell explained AV Group, which operates AV Nackawic and AV Cell in Atholville, is owned by India-based Aditya Birla. He explained the AV stands for Aditya Vikram, the grandson of the company's founder.

He said the Fortune 500 company employs 140,000 people worldwide as a global powerhouse in metals, pulp and fibre, chemicals textiles, carbon black, telecom, cement, financial services, fashion retail and renewable energies.

Howell said Aditya Birla's pulp mills, including AV Nackawic, make it a global leader in viscose staple fibre production.

In addition to its two New Brunswick mills, the company operates mills in India and Sweden. It also owns a paper-grade mill in Terrace Bay, Ont.

Howell explained that the Nackawic mill processes local hardwood into specialized pulp bales to ship to production companies that create a fibre product similar to cotton.

While cotton still owns the largest market share, Howell and Legere explained, the demand for viscose fibre is steadily increasing. Howell said growing cotton is land-intensive, and global needs require gearing farmland food production.

He passed around samples of the fibre pulp product produced at the Nackawic mill, the viscose fibre it becomes and clothing products made from it.

"It's really amazing what you can make out of wood," Howell said.

Howell explained the focus of his presentation to the Nackawic-Millville council was to enhance a strong relationship between the mill and the community. He explained the demand to attract workers to the region and to keep local youth in the area requires more than a job. It also needs a community offering suitable housing, services and recreational and entertainment opportunities.

Howell believes AV Group can work with the town towards that end. As an example, he explained, the community approached the mill about contributing to the recently opened Nackawic Medical Clinic.

He said helping enhance health-care services in the community was evident.

Mayor Tim Fox agreed building a solid relationship between the community and its largest employer was essential.

In response to meeting housing needs for mill workers, Fox shared with Howell and Legere the Gemtec report surrounding the feasibility of a proposed subdivision on municipal land behind the Nackawic Middle School.

Several council members also praised AV Group for the recently signed agreement with Wolastoqey First Nation communities.

Under the agreement, the company agreed to transfer a parcel of land to Wolastoqey communities in the province and allow their members' input into their forest management practices.

While the agreement won't address the Wolastoquey land claims involving AV Group and other large forestry companies, Legere said during the Feb. 28 news conference that wasn't the company's attempt.

"Any time you build a relationship, and that relationship improves, it opens conversations. Again, it's not the intent, but obviously, if the relationship improves, it opens up options," Legere said during the agreement announcement.

Matawaskiye (Madawaska) Chief Patricia Bernard called the agreement "largely symbolic" but agreed it was a stepping stone.

"I think this is a great day and is a great opportunity for this particular company to initiate this memorandum of understanding because it actually sets the stage for other companies to do the same," she said.

During their visit to the Nackawic-Millville council, Howell and Legere expressed their desire to solidify relationships with the town and enhance its opportunities to attract and develop a high-skilled workforce.

Legere said AV Nackawic currently employs more than 400 workers. He added the company needs a steady feed of new employees to replace about half of the workforce as they approach retirement age over the next decade.

Howell explained building that skilled workforce was why it became a partner in the NBCC "Going Beyond" campaign to enhance trade education.

In January, AV Group announced a $100,000 donation to the program.

Howell said the PowerPoint presentation to Nackawic-Millville council on March 6 is similar to his presentation at schools throughout the Upper River Valley as they promote interest in trades and potential opportunities at AV Nackawic

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun