More jobs could be on the way for Gisborne's wood and sawmilling industries this year with Far East Sawmills preparing a funding proposal to double production at the same time as the region plans how to establish the $20 million Prime Wood Cluster Centre of Excellence.
Far East Sawmills last year bought the former Prime Sawmill in Gisborne from Eastland Community Trust for an undisclosed sum.
Far East Sawmill managing director Wade Glass said about 45 staff had already been employed and more could be in the pipeline this year if the company could get funding for a computerised sorting shed.
"It was a pretty tough year (2018) , training 40 people and getting them up to speed and working as a team in synchronicity, but gradually they are finding a rhythm and it's going well.
"We have been lucky that we have a pretty good culture there. You can teach the technical things but you can't teach the willingness or attitude.
"It's panning out kind of how we expected. It's very hard work but we are slowly inching to where we want to be.
"We have about 45 people on-site but we are working on a funding proposal to install a bin sorter on the site that will allow us to double production up to about 10,000 tonnes of logs a month, and that's really what the site needs to operate efficiently.
"That will involve about another 35 jobs being created and if we can get the funding approved, we are aiming for an October start date on that."
That would also allow Far East to redeploy about eight staff to higher-skilled jobs and allow the mill to work for seven days a week.
Glass said the first few months of operation had been "a grind" but being based in Gisborne had brought some advantages.
"I have been very surprised at how easy it is to do business in Gisborne and how supportive the community is, and how supportive local businesses have been, so it has been good."
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones last year promised the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) would invest $500,000 in the Far East sawmill to increase wood processing capacity and get local people into jobs.
The total cost to recommission the mill was just over $3.6 million, with the rest of the funding coming from Eastland Community Trust and Far East Sawmill Limited.
The mill is a central part of the Prime Wood Cluster Centre of Excellence.
Eastland Community Trust chief executive Gavin Murphy said the wood cluster site at Matawhero, bought for $7.4m in 2015, was the trust's biggest investment to date.
"These businesses relocated to Tairawhiti Gisborne based on ECT's original investment and subsequent Activate Tairawhiti business development work.
Over 50 full-time jobs at Far East, more to come
"The 71 new jobs created at the cluster are a direct result of ECT's investment and business development attraction activities, Far East and Wood Engineering's private sector investment and supporting Provincial Growth Fund money to date.
"As of January 2019, 51 full-time equivalent local roles have been created and filled at Far East Sawmills, including eight people from the Aotearoa Social Enterprise Trust who were previously unemployed.
"This number is set to increase as Far East expands. An additional 20 jobs have been created by Wood Engineering Technology Gisborne Ltd.
"Overall, ECT aspires to work with further private sector partners and the PGF to create as many as 120 onsite jobs, with further potential for the creation of 300 offsite jobs via supporting businesses.
"As per last year's $152.7 million PGF announcement for the Tairawhiti/Gisborne region, $20 million has been approved for the Prime Wood Cluster Centre of Excellence. To date, $500,000 of this figure has been received to support development at the centre of excellence.
"Eastland Community Trust and its economic development arm, Activate Tairawhiti, are working with the PGF with a view to investing the balance of the PGF allocation to go towards further key Prime Wood Cluster Centre of Excellence projects."