Catalyst President and C.E.O. Kevin Clarke listens to an audience member during a gathering of Chemainus & District Chamber of Commerce members and invited guests Monday at the Crofton Community Centre.

Catalyst president talks about job openings and company innovation on public relations tour

Surviving the times: Kevin Clarke feels restructuring created better positioning to deal with market fluctuations

Restructured Catalyst Paper wants to convey the message it’s changing with the times and an abundance of jobs are going to be available in the next few years due to retirements.

Catalyst president and C.E.O. Kevin Clarke spoke to a gathering of Chemainus and District Chamber of Commerce members and invited guests Monday at the Crofton Community Centre, painting a rosy future picture for the company since it emerged from bankruptcy proceedings last September.

“On a yearly basis, we’re going to come out and make sure we’re communicating to all of our stakeholders in the various communities,” said Clarke, who was joined by Crofton division general manager Robert Belanger.

“These are great opportunities for me to hear business people or retirees.”

A lot of people supported Catalyst’s restructuring, Clarke said, and he’s hopeful of a far more positive 2013 than 2012.

When Catalyst completed bankruptcy proceedings Sept. 13, it became “the largest Canadian company to come in and out,” Clarke said. “I would have preferred not going in.”

But the experience of easing the debt load and selling off assets has left Catalyst in a much better position within world markets.

“It gives us a strength and ability to withstand those fluctuations in the marketplace,” Clarke said.

“One of the things big companies don’t do well is change and adapt. When you don’t change and adapt, you don’t survive. I can tell you we’re changing at light speed.”

One of the things Catalyst has done is introduce new product lines such as Marathon Life, a newsprint grade that supports the Latin American market.

It’s 17 % lighter, Clarke said.

“It has the same print holdout. It’s primarily for newsprint.”

Clarke said eight or nine new products have been introduced by Catalyst in the last seven years. “If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t be in this room today,” he emphasized.

Along those lines, Catalyst is stepping up its campaign to let educators know of the opportunities that are going to exist in the company so students can start preparing now to filter into some of those jobs.

Clarke planned to meet with educators in the region during his tour to the island to help spread the news about getting people to funnel from starting jobs up to engineers and scientists who will be in high demand in the industry.

He said 81 people were hired at Crofton last year and “there’ll be additional hiring this year.”

Company-wide, “in the next five years, we’re going to lose 50 to 60 % of our employees to retirement,” said Clarke.

“The amount of skill shortage is huge, probably one million people short over the next five years in Canada. That’s an issue we’re working with the federal government on.”

Catalyst’s public relations campaign includes organizing a day for Chamber of Commerce members and business people to tour the mill.

“We’ll try to get that scheduled and get people through the mill,” said Clarke.

A public open house is also being considered.

An inevitable topic that arose during question period was the Cowichan watershed issue and Catalyst’s operation of the weir.

“We’ll continue to very robustly support that,” said Clarke. “We’ll continue to put every resource necessary in there.”

There are already concerns about lower water levels matching last year.

“We’re watching it very carefully,” Belanger said, to see “if we have to make a decision to operate the weir early.”

Meanwhile, Belanger continues to do double duty as GM for both the Crofton and Port Alberni mills. Once a new manager is hired for Alberni and has spent a bit of time there, Belanger will return to Crofton on a fulltime basis.

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