Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Métis biz gets feather in its cap

Organization intends to acquire Teulon goose-processing plant

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Manitoba goose exports to Europe may once again take flight if a deal by a Manitoba Métis investment fund to acquire Northern Goose Processing in Teulon is completed.

Newly formed Métis Economic Development Organization is scheduled to sign an offer to purchase Northern Goose Processors from its founder and longtime president Don Salkeld on Monday.

The deal calls for a purchase price of about $3 million, but MEDO says it will need another $2 million to invest in the facility and training programs to establish a large enough labour pool for the plant that might employ as many as 150 full-time workers by this fall.

Northern Goose Processing, founded in 1976, is the only federally inspected goose-processing plant in North America certified to export into the European Union. But after a lengthy regulatory dispute, it was on the verge of closing for good last fall.

A couple of years ago, Salkeld emerged victorious from an eight-year legal battle with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that severely disrupted the firm's European export business.

He won an $8.5-million settlement from the CFIA, but the dispute largely kept him out of the lucrative European market and the experience left Salkeld exhausted and keen to sell the business.

After almost a year on the market and no takers, Salkeld figured he'd close for good and liquidate the assets.

But last summer Blake Russell, CEO of the newly created Métis Economic Development Organization, saw a listing for the property and made a call.

"It just fits us in so many ways," Russell said. "The Interlake is sort of the homeland of the Métis. There are plenty of (goose and turkey) producers in the area and it's a great opportunity to employ people from rural Manitoba, including Métis and First Nations people."

The Stonewall-raised Salkeld, who says he is proud of his own Métis heritage, is excited about the possibility of seeing his legacy survive and to have his business continue to be an economic force in the region. The 61-year-old has agreed to stay on and run the business for MEDO.

"After the end of the legal action I felt like a warrior returning from battle," he said. "But I've really enjoyed the business over the years, especially kick-starting the working life of many young people who have worked here over the years."

Although both sides have been working on the deal since last fall, there are still a lot of details to be completed. Russell said MEDO could access enough debt financing to buy the business, but not enough to beef up the infrastructure so that it can fully exploit the export markets.

"The domestic market is really not a high priority for us," he said. "We have letters of commitment from EU distributors. They tell us they have enough demand for our turkeys that could keep four plants this size busy."

He said there is also strong demand for Manitoba geese from German and Greek distributors.

Russell said he has started discussions with various potential government funding sources including Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and Farm Credit Corp.

As well, he said he's had discussions with provincial officials about a loan through the Manitoba Industrial Opportunities Program.

"We have been talking with Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk, asking her where we fit," Russell said. "We think we'll need some investment from the province."

Russell might have good reason to feel confident about that because, as he said, the project "hits all the sweet spots" -- job creation, rural jobs, aboriginal and Métis jobs and export sales.

In addition to the poultry business, Northern Goose Processing is also in the feather and down business and Russell already has expressions of interest from a Chinese group seeking a joint venture that would export feather and down into the Chinese market.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2010 B6

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