Northern Manitoba communities need to be more proactive about creating opportunities for economic development.
That was the message conveyed by Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, as he visited Flin Flon last week to meet with community and business leaders.
Davidson said some of the concerns he has been hearing from local business people focus around what Hudbay’s long-term plans may be.
“So what I am always encouraging is, are there opportunities to diversify and what are the economic development plans for Flin Flon?” he said in an interview with The Reminder.
Davidson emphasized that communities dependant on one industry have to be proactive about economic diversification, including clarifying and communicating what they have to offer to potential businesses.
“If you are simply hoping the phone’s going to [ring] one day and someone’s going to say, ‘Yeah, I want to set up a business in Flin Flon,’ you’re probably making a huge mistake,” said Davidson, who also addressed the Flin Flon and District Chamber of Commerce at a June 23 supper during his visit.
“Part of what I’m suggesting is putting that profile together for communities, saying, ‘Here’s what we have to offer,’ and then being proactive in determining what industries make sense for us outside of the mining industry, and how we can we build upon those here. That’s the work that communities need to start doing if they want to be able to attract new businesses, and I don’t think enough are doing that.”
Davidson said municipalities, provinces and chambers of commerce should all engage in the process of strategy building. He said sharing best practices among communities could also help build prosperity in the region.
“The challenges that Flin Flon is undertaking are no different from what’s going on in The Pas and Snow Lake and Churchill,” he said.
Common concerns Davidson identified include infrastructure limitations and workforce issues.
Davidson said plans are underway for the various northern chambers to meet on a regular basis, and he applauded recent efforts among Flin Flon, Creighton and Denare Beach leaders to meet to discuss economic development in the region.
“I was encouraged that they are looking at that approach in terms of how can you have those relationships and be on the same page…and doing things that are in the best interest of the region rather than trying to compete with each other,” he said.
In addition to developing local strategies, a long-term development strategy is crucial for building economic prosperity in northern Manitoba, Davidson said.
“The big challenge I see, specifically for northern Manitoba, is I don’t think there’s really a clear direction in terms of where the opportunities are,” Davidson said. “For a long time there hasn’t really been a discussion as to where northern Manitoba needs to go.”
Davidson said the new Manitoba government made a commitment during the election process to develop such a plan.
“The provincial government has outlined that they are going to be developing this northern strategy, and they’ve identified a number of key areas, whether it be economic development, whether it be infrastructure, whether it be tourism, whether it be workforce, so that’s a good thing,”
Davidson said the provincial government has indicated that it plans to go through a consultation process, and he is actively encouraging members of the business community to communicate with the government about what is happening on the ground in the North so they can have a say in strategy and policy decisions.
“Make sure that your voice is heard,” he said. “Give them a good understanding of what’s going on in your local community, what some of those challenges are, what some of the hardships are that businesses are dealing with.”
In addition to north-specific issues, Davidson said he often hears concerns from business people that the province’s business climate is not competitive enough, especially when compared with Saskatchewan.
“The personal income tax levels in Saskatchewan as compared with Manitoba are night and day,” he said. “…I’m taking a lot more home if I’m living in Saskatchewan, not to mention the fact that we have an eight per cent PST compared to a five per cent in Saskatchewan. We need to make sure that we are addressing those issues.
“We know it’s going to take time, but [the provincial government] needs to re-instill that confidence in the business community that this is a good place to start a business and for people to work.”