Soprema expansion a ‘vote of confidence’

A multi-million expansion of the Soprema manufacturing plant in Chilliwack was announced even as the company won the city’s top business award last week.

A multi-million expansion of the Soprema manufacturing plant in Chilliwack was announced even as the company won the city’s top business award last week.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz said the expansion is “fantastic” news for the city, in terms of new jobs and attracting new businesses.

“It means more jobs for our community,” she said, which helps create an “intact” community where residents don’t need to commute to make a living.

“The assumption of Chilliwack as a bedroom community is highly over-rated,” she said, referring to a recently-released transportation study that shows 87 per cent of daily trips are made within the Chilliwack sub-region.

Soprema’s expansion announcement “can only help” the city’s business reputation, she added, and a new tax exemption bylaw should encourage more companies to locate here.

Soprema director Paul Boileau said construction of the second production plant will begin in 2012 on the north-east side of the company’s current site in the Chilliwack Business Estates.

“After a relatively quiet period of more than three years of industrial development, it’s hoped that this investment — a vote of confidence in Chilliwack — will echo Soprema’s beginning during the last economic downturn,” he said.

In 2000, the company started operations at the business park operated by the Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation – the city’s economic development arm — and it was soon shipping its waterproof roofing materials around the world.

For the second year in a row now, the Soprema plant in Chilliwack is the company’s top-ranked production facility out of 14 sister plants in the U.S. and Europe.

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you Canada can’t compete in manufacturing,” Boileau said.

“Soprema is proof that we can compete and win in a global economy — we’re doing it here in Chilliwack, right here, right now,” he said.

Boileau credited part of the company’s success to “a workforce in Chilliwack second-to-none, with a strong work ethic, discipline and honesty.”

“Soprema’s best asset is our people — employees who prove every day that world-class achievements can happen in our back yard,” he said.

But he also credited Chilliwack MLA John Les as “the man with the original vision” for Soprema finding a home in Chilliwack.

In 1997, Soprema was looking at Chilliwack to locate a new plant, but when the company couldn’t get another site it was considering out of the Agricultural Land Reserve, then-Mayor John Les came up with the idea of an old drive-in theatre property north of the Highway 1.

The city bought the 55 acres there, sold 10 acres to Soprema, and got an ALR exclusion for the rest, which eventually became home to Stream International and the Chilliwack Business Estates.

CEPCO president John Jansen said Soprema is “certainly one of our centre-pieces” in the business park, and its success as “a company that does business around the world” helps to attract other companies to locate here.

The “strong work ethic” of Chilliwack employees and the “skilled labor” found here is another attraction, he said.

Boileau said many British Columbians might be surprised to learn that value-added manufactured goods represent 53 per cent of all the province’s exports, more than all the natural resources combined.

“Most of the public still think of B.C. as a resource-based economy,” he said.

“We underestimate the importance of manufacturing to our quality of life, and the Fraser Valley is B.C.’s hotbed of value-added manufacturing and processing,” he said.

rfreeman@theprogress.com

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