A Vancouver Sun editorial last week was critical of the provinces decision to make a log home part of B.C.-Canada House, the pavilion the federal and provincial governments recently opened in Torino, Italy to show off Canada and B.C. during the 2006 Olympics and Paralympics.
How many British Columbians live in log houses, The Sun asked rhetorically. Rather than perpetuating the stereotype of a land of moose, mountains and Mounties, which the log home apparently does, a modern image of vibrant cities and B.C.s success in cultivating high tech companies should have been emphasized, according to the editorial.
While The Sun gets top marks for pointing out that few British Columbians live in log houses, it conveniently overlooked the fact that the rustic building in Torino will be used by representatives from a number of B.C.-based high tech companies. In fact, Leading Edge B.C., a non-profit partnership between industry and the provincial government dedicated to the promotion of B.C. as a location for technology companies, was instrumental in recruiting the high tech companies that are among the 80-odd businesses represented at B.C.-Canada House in Torino.
Those company representatives that are going to Italy wont be spending all their time lounging about in the log house and handing out business cards to passersby. Thats because the province and Leading Edge B.C. have made efforts to match B.C. technology companies with complementary Italian companies in order to explore business opportunities. This is what the Olympics are; beyond the sports competitions and the cultural exchanges the Games are a big trade mission held every two years. But too few of us seem ready to grasp the opportunity.
Lets go back to the log house for a moment. There is a niche market for log homes that some B.C. companies, like Sitka Log Homes of 100 Mile House, the firm that built the structure now on display in Torino, have done well to tap. But most people around the world, like most British Columbians, arent looking to live in log homes.
However, B.C. is in the wood business, and despite the problems and concerns regarding the forest industry it is still the largest single-industry contributor to the provincial economy. And the forest industry and the province should be using the Olympics as an opportunity to show the world what they can do.
We hear, daily, how construction costs are soaring and with so many big projects scheduled for completion prior to 2010 there are huge concerns about cost overruns. There are many factors behind this over-heated construction market, including a shortage of skilled labour, a strong economy and the global demand for materials, particularly steel and concrete, that has inflated the cost of those materials. Perhaps the forest industry could be part of the solution.
This is not to suggest that 2x4s can replace concrete and steel, but maybe the forest and construction industries can come up with some innovative solutions. Prior to being awarded the 2010 Games the story was often repeated about how the Norwegians, in preparation for the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, developed a new method of engineering and manufacturing beams made of oriented strands of wood. The beams, which can span greater distances than were previously possible, were used in at least one of the ice arenas in Lillehammer. The technology has since been used in various places around the world.
There are a number of venues for the 2010 Games that have not yet reached the final design stage, including the speed skating oval in Richmond and the Paralympic facility in Whistler. Incorporating innovative wood design and technology in some of these facilities is an opportunity for the forest industry to show the world what it can do.
Its also pretty good timing, as the B.C. forest industry looks longingly at the market in China, host of the 2008 Olympics. The Chinese have a huge demand for housing but wood is not a traditional building material. The Chinese may be reluctant to build with 2x4s but they might be more receptive to other uses of engineered wood.
Back in B.C., maybe the forest industry should be looking at some of the 2010 Olympic facilities as exhibition space; an opportunity to show the many innovative ways wood can be used. And perhaps in return for this opportunity the forest industry should finance any wooden structures built for the Olympics, thereby easing the burden of inflated construction costs that will otherwise fall first to their friends in the provincial and federal governments, and ultimately to taxpayers.
We have moved beyond being a land of moose, Mounties and log houses. We also need to recognize opportunities and continue to move beyond the limits of our imagination.