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Saultite is Northern Ontario's Entrepreneur of the Year

Sault Ste. Marie's Jim Boniferro was all smiles tonight as he was named Northern Ontario Entrepreneur of the Year.

Sault Ste. Marie's Jim Boniferro was all smiles tonight as he was named Northern Ontario Entrepreneur of the Year.

Boniferro was recognized at the 18th Annual Northern Ontario Business Awards at the Best Western on Great Northern Road, for his revival last year of Domtar's abandoned Sault hardwood mill as Boniferro Mill Works.

The awards were presented by Mayor John Rowswell and Patricia Mills, publisher of Northern Ontario Business magazine.

Prestige Glass International Inc. of Elliot Lake was honoured with the Company of the Year (16-50 Employees) Award.

And the Sault Ste. Marie Safe Communities Partnership got a Judge's Choice Award.

Here's what organizers had to say about Jim Boniferro's Entrepreneur of the Year Award:

************************ Entrepreneur of the Year

Jim Boniferro, Boniferro Mill Works

When Domtar announced it was closing its Sault Ste. Marie hardwood mill, it could have been chalked up as another bad news economic story in the job-hungry city of 74,000.

But its mill manager Jim Boniferro was willing to take a risk and challenge his employees to succeed.

Supporters laud the 44-year-old Sault Ste. Marie native as a passionate and well-rounded business professional whose skills were put to the test that November day in 2002 when the paper giant handed out pink slips to Boniferro and his workforce of 150.

Rather than walk away and find work elsewhere, he began talks with long-time business associate Tom Fox, president of Fox Lumber Sales of Hamilton, Montana.

Together, they set about developing a business plan to purchase the mill as owner-operators.

The two partners prepared a comprehensive business plan for the Ministry of Natural Resources, outlining their first-year expectations, including plans to upgrade the facility by investing $5 million in capital improvements over five years.

"We chose to take destiny into our own hands and say we are going to be an owners group and put 30 years of sawmilling business on the line to say, we believe in what we have here."

Today, the mill's average daily production is 60,000 board feet on a one-shift basis, amounting to 17 million board feet annually - a figure that is sustainable with their business plan and with Ministry-recognized operating levels off their Crown units.

In their abbreviated inaugural 2003 year, the company generated $10 million (Cdn) in sales.

This year, they expect to ring up between $17 million and $20 million.

While the U.S. remains their primary market with flooring manufacturers, they have entered specialty markets with makers of bowling pins, broom handles and brushes, and are exploring some high-end opportunities in California and Japan.

Due to some better-than-anticipated costing savings and a strong hardwood market, Boniferro Mill Works is slightly ahead of its business plan schedule having already invested $1.87 million in plant upgrades over the first 12 months of operation.

Upgrades include the addition of a new Tele-Twin Mem Scragg saw line to the mill's manufacturing capacity this year. ************************ Other winners of 2004 Nobbies

Kuch Stephenson Gibson Malo Architects & Engineer Thunder Bay Company of the Year (1-15 employees)

Clarion Resort Pinewood Park North Bay Company of the Year (51+ empployyes)

Kathy Wells-McNeil Total Nursing Care Sudbury Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Science North Sudbury Entrepreneurial Community of the Year

Stroma Engineering North Bay Innovation Award

Pine Needle Blankets Production Whitefish Lake First Nations Business Award of Excellence

Erik Van Beek Sudbury Essay Scholarship Winner

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans six decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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