New Zealand’s Western Southland town of Otautau has been dealt a blow with the Bright Wood sawmill closing, resulting in 19 job losses. Otago Daily Times After many years of uncertainty, Bright Wood New Zealand opted to close its Otautau operation permanently, as the owners said it was no longer economically viable. In 2007 and 2009, the American-owned company indicated it would close the mill, but changed its mind and continued with reduced staff numbers. Bright Wood New Zealand began operations in 1998, after buying the Waikana sawmill in Otautau. The mill once employed more than 100 people, but had just 19 full-time employees when staff were told last month it would close for good. It contributed almost NZ$80,000 a month in wages to Southland’s economy before the operation started to wind up. Milling has finished and the remaining staff are now in the process of cleaning up the site and shipping equipment to the United States. The site will be put up for sale. Site manager John Crane told the Southland Express the announcement caught some staff by surprise, but many of them had already been able to find work elsewhere. Of the 19 staff, just four lived in Otautau and the others commuted from Invercargill and elsewhere in Southland. Otautau Community Board chairman Andre Bekhuis said the closure was disappointing for Otautau, which has a population of about 750. “It is a blow to the town but what can you do? [Bright Wood New Zealand] did their best to keep it going. They were great for our town and have been very supportive of Otautau over the years. “Otautau is a pretty resilient town so we will keep ticking away.” Bright Wood president Kevin Stovall said the sawmill was no longer viable for various reasons. He said ensuring the Otautau mill became internationally competitive would have required a substantial investment in equipment. “We conservatively estimated that an investment certainly in excess of $10 million would have been required to make the mill competitive.” Mr Stovall also pointed to increased domestic and international shipping costs and the weakened US dollar as some of the other factors contributing to the Otautau closure.