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MEDO drums up business partnerships

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THE largest Canadian-owned industrial crane company has formed a joint-venture with the Manitoba Metis Federation as a prelude to its entering the Manitoba market.

Even before Edmonton-based NCSG Crane & Heavy Haul Services Ltd. has secured any paying customers in Manitoba, it has signed a partnership agreement with MEDO (Metis Economic Development Organization), an agency of the MMF, to develop business together in the province.

MEDO owns 51 per cent of the joint venture and the two sides will share costs and revenue.

NCSG was one of more than 50 agencies and businesses, many Metis-owned, exhibiting at a two-day Metis Conference & Trade Show that started Tuesday in Winnipeg.

Large companies like NCSG and Enbridge were also there, an indication of the positive business prospects they believe are available in working with Metis companies.

David Chartrand, president of the MMF, said, "We see private sector businesses that are coming here from outside the province. I give them kudos because they are pre-empting the move... They (NCSG) are creating a partnership now and not waiting for the projects like Bipole Three to come."

Andrew Popko, NCSG's vice-president aboriginal relations and major accounts, said the company did the deal with the MMF a month ago after attending a similar Metis event in British Columbia.

"We are not in the Manitoba market now but this is a great opportunity to build a relationship first and then come in as partners," he said. "With this kind of partnership we can work with industry players who are looking for aboriginal content."

The arrangement will include efforts to train and hire Metis and aboriginal people to work with the new joint venture as well as share in profits.

Organizers of the two-day event were enthusiastic about the level of business activity now taking place within the Metis community in Manitoba. But many also spoke of the challenges that exist in terms of networking with larger companies and the challenges of accessing skills training.

Blake Russell, chief executive officer of MEDO, said there has been a positive response from Metis entrepreneurs and the full-house on the trade show floor was a good indication of the activity that exists in the community.

"We were in the mid-350s in our business directory 18 months ago and now we are more than 460," he said.

Chuck Lewis, the owner of the Winnipeg franchise of an electrical contracting business called Mr. Electric, is a good example of the Metis entrepreneurs who are building capacity in the community.

Starting about three years ago, he now employs 14 electricians including about six northern Metis and aboriginal people, three of whom are apprentices working on their journeymen tickets.

"It's so hard for apprentices to get started in the north," said Lewis, who is originally from The Pas. "In a way we hope that when they do get their ticket they will go back up north to work."

Theresa Oswald, newly appointed provincial minister of Jobs and the Economy, spoke to about 200 people at the event.

In an interview she said, "I may be brand new to the Metis economic development file but I'm not new to the Metis community. I have been working with president Chartrand for years particularly on improving health status. We have a strong working relationship. I am not surprised at what is moving and shaking in this community on building the economy. This is a community that focuses on outcomes and getting things done."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 6, 2013 B4

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