Drive through Port Alice and the first thing you notice are the smokestacks. They represent progress, and hope.

Operations in the town's Neucel Pulp Mill are running at near capacity, breathing new life into a place that was written off for dead just two years ago.

"I've seen a lot of stuff, good times, bad times, and in between," said Neucel shipping superintendent Peter Wilson.

Wilson says right now is undoubtedly one of the good times.

Nearly 400 people work at Neucel and the company's biggest problem is finding even more workers.

They're good jobs, skilled trades earn in the $32 to $33 per hour range.

The mill is thriving because it has capitalized on a niche market. It turns Western Hemlocks into a pulp that is in such demand that it is shipped around the world.

It's used for everything from cigarette filters to rayon fabrics to the skins on sausages.

"It ends up in food products, pharmaceutical products, drilling mud," said Bob Taylor, Neucel Specialty Cellulose President.

"There is virtually an endless list of end uses that the pulp from Port Alice finds its way to," he said.

The wealth generated here has sparked an economic rebirth on northern Vancouver Island.

"If you look at the amount of money or dollars that Neucel spends, it's in excess of $100 million a year and a large part of that goes into this area," said Taylor.

It has breathed new life into Port Alice, a tiny town that has seen more than its share of hardship. The trouble now is of a different kind, said Mayor Larry Pepper.

"We're actually coming up with a housing shortage whereas two years ago you could hardly sell a house," he said.

The forest industry is known for its economic cycles. Good times are often followed by bad.

Peter Wilson knows that, but looking ahead, he sees nothing but hope.

"In two short years, we've come a long way, and I think we're going to be a force to reckon with in the future, that's for sure."

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jim Beatty