The Portage Citizen
The “B” word is increasingly slipping off more local tongues. What does it mean?Quietly, but assertively, Vern May, Portage Regional Economic Development (PRED) executive director may be the first municipal official to state Portage la Prairie and area is in the midst of an economic boom.
May’s economic development portfolio should have him yelling “boom times” in his loudest voice from downtown rooftops, but as a pragmatist he is busy digging into the layers of silver lining and not worrying about labels.
“We are absolutely calling this a boom. It’s probably the most exciting time in Portage la Prairie’s history right now,” May said. “With the confirmed investment that we have and with the deals that are in progress, the horizon is looking pretty encouraging.”
When Roquette announced its now over half-billion dollar pea protein plant would locate here, investors began looking up Portage la Prairie on a map to learn where it is and get the phone number. The more recent expansion announcement by Simplot running up the local investment tally to over $1 billion dollars in just over a year has the phones ringing in the PRED office.
“We have also just heard at the rural council about some new industry at Newton that will create 25-30 more full time jobs and some seasonal work. The trickle effect from these kinds of announcements will be felt throughout all sectors in the local economy,” May said.
Local developers and builders – the grassroots guys – are busy here, but May is hearing from provincial and national developers as well.
Some of the economic effect happening in Portage la Prairie and the RM is not following the obvious rules. “It’s kind of counter intuitive,” May explained. “In a lot of rural Manitoba jurisdictions when you talk about economic development the general public considers ‘how many new stores did you open’. That’s all they care about. The metric for that is reversed. A new store opening on Main St. is a byproduct of everything else going right.
“When you have industry that is creating jobs and you’re building capacity in terms of housing the people to fill those jobs, that’s when the commercial sector gets really interested and says ‘you know what, there’s going to be an opportunity based on the growth that’s happening there’,” May said.
The phone calls PRED is fielding come from local entrepreneurs with new enquiries and from national chains. “Some of those are from companies that have owned land purchased several years ago, and now are following up with us and thinking it is time for them to exercise their option to develop.”
While many Manitoba rural jurisdictions are seeking that “one lead” to hook into “we’re in a situation here where some days it’s all meetings, phone calls and enquiries. We’re starting a lot of dialogue encouraging entrepreneurs and helping them get to ‘yes’ with council as best we can.”
Arguably, the last big win for this area came in 2003 with Simplot. “There’s no evidence we immediately followed up while it was still a hot topic,” May said. “The position we are in right now we can start the conversation by saying, ‘you may not be familiar with Portage la Prairie, but as a regional community of 21,000 we’ve attracted over a billion dollars of new investment in 13 months. It’s an immediate attention grabber.
“It’s a matter of us not resting on our laurels right now. Certainly, we’re talking about it in Portage la Prairie, but we need to be constantly out there hammering that message.”