Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Four million check out $10 building lot scheme in Reston

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BRANDON -- There are many ways to measure the success of a marketing campaign, but four-million website "hits" speak for themselves.

That's the number of visits made to the Rural Municipality of Pipestone's website since mid-September, when it put up 24 building lots for $10 each.

That's no typo. Ten bucks.

The gutsy strategy is part of an effort to bolster Reston's population of about 550.

To qualify for the deep discount, purchasers must submit a written offer and a $1,000 deposit. They then have 90 days to build a foundation and 12 months to complete construction of their home. If they satisfy th criteria, they receive a $990 refund.

The opportunity is better for those seeking to start or purchase a local business. The RM is also offering some commercial properties for $16,000 to $20,000. Grants of up to $32,000 are available.

Pipestone's marketing campaign has drawn the attention of media outlets throughout North America, resulting in so much Internet traffic the RM's website crashed a few weeks ago. While interest in the Reston properties may surprise many, it comes as no surprise to those who have followed developments in southwestern Manitoba's economy over the past decade.

The RM of Pipestone sits on top of some of the largest oil reserves in Manitoba. The combined strength of the oil and agricultural sectors makes the area one of the most prosperous in Manitoba.

With the high level of activity in the oil patch, the demand for workers far exceeds supply. Many employers are advertising job openings throughout Canada, while some are even considering foreign-worker recruitment to solve the labour shortage.

These aren't low-paying jobs. Many of them start at over $70,000 per year, some coming with free housing.

Though some comments on media websites have expressed concern that the $10 deal may be too good to be true, the opportunity is even better than advertised.

In what may be a first in Manitoba, the RM paid $500 from its oil revenues earlier this year to every household in the municipality. The only condition was the owner must have resided in the RM for the previous 12 months.

"We call it a residential grant program," RM Reeve Ross Tycoles told the Brandon Sun last January. "This is run through our community development corporation and what it really comes from is the RM had some extra funds on the oil side... Some of our older houses, you may only pay $1,000 in taxes. Well then, this $500 covers half of your tax bill."

After factoring in the $500 grant, a purchaser of one of the 24 lots could actually be paid $490 by Pipestone for taking ownership -- and that's before you consider the availability of additional grants of up to $6,000 for home renovations.

To say the campaign has been a success would be an understatement. As of Tuesday, the RM had received more than 1,400 serious inquiries from inside and outside Canada.

Though not all of the paperwork is in, economic development officer Tanis Chalmers said Tuesday that all 24 lots are "spoken for" and another offering is likely.

At a time when many rural municipalities are struggling with the impact of rural depopulation, Pipestone has shown population decline can be slowed, if not reversed, through aggressive marketing and a commitment to the future.

Having proven the demand for housing lots is there, they have set an example that RMs could -- and should -- follow.


Deveryn Ross is a political

commentator living in Brandon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2012 A11

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