For the past 17 years, many things have changed at Ashland’s chemical plant located near Winfield in the region’s industrial area.
There has been global downsizing that has the Ashland operation in the Okanagan as the last standing Canadian operation by a company that supplies specialty chemicals, technologies and expertise and operates in more than 100 countries around the world.
The company locally has grown to employ 32 people but has also had to downsize its operations from a seven days per week facility that operates 24 hours a day to one that does the same, but just on a five day work week.
But the one thing that has remained is the company’s safety record. In two weeks Ashland’s operation in the Okanagan will celebrate 17 years without a time loss accident.
“We’re very proud of our safety record and we work very hard to keep it going,” said Kelly Brown, Ashland plant manager. “We’re working with chemicals and there is lots of movement with trucks and rail cars. Our employees have done a fantastic job.”
Brown made the comments as he personally toured Kelowna Lake Country MP Ron Cannan around the site of the plant which came to the Okanagan in the early 1970s along when other large manufacturers such as Western Star and Hiram Walker also arrived in the area.
But Ashland is the last remaining of those original manufacturers that still operates in the Okanagan.
Ashland manufactures structural plastics for boats, campers and tubs and shower stalls among many other things. It operates mostly in Western Canada and in the Pacific Northwest region with its business split equally on both sides of the border.
Among the other changes is a change from hands-on to computerized technology that has seen employees having to change the way they operate and also made the plant more streamlined.
“A lot of our customers are innovative builders,” said Brown. “They may be a canoe maker but they are looking to get lighter materials or they are looking for specialty products. We have a lot of talent here that can help find solutions. Our people make the difference.”
Some research on new products is done in the Ashland plant although major research and development is performaned at Ashland’s $20 million (US) R and D facility in Ohio.
Interestingly, despite the fact that Ashland is located a stone’s throw from the Winfield Arena and a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from the District of Lake Country’s Town Centre, the plant is actually located within the Kelowna city limits thanks to a municipal boundary extension prior to Lake Country’s incorporation. That mean’s the company pays its taxes to the City of Kelowna rather than the District of Lake Country as do a handful of other industrial businesses in the vicinity.
Talks to change the boundaries have taken place over the years although there are no immediate plans to change the boundaries. b
As for Cannan, he was in Kelowna for a week to visit with constituents and took the time to show up for the plant tour, asking questions about the industry, the health of the business and what has made it successful.
Cannan says information about local business is key for him to understand the challenges of folks living and working in his home riding.
“My list of responsibilities includes representing my constituents so I find the best way to understand their operation is to meet with them,” said Cannan, who showed up for the tour by himself, minus any kind of political entourage. “I try to hit a couple businesses when I am in the area to find out how they are doing. We have so many specialty and niche businesses here and this is a perfect example.”