Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Pas no longer a one-horse town

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THE PAS -- Call it the Gateway to the North. Call it the home of the Northern Manitoba Trapper's Festival. Just don't call The Pas a one-horse town.

"I believe that most people from the outside still see us as a lumber town, but most people in this area know that our economic base is changing," Mayor Al McLauchlan notes.

It's true that forestry giant Tolko Industries has historically been a key cog in the economic machine here. And it still is, providing about 315 well-paying jobs.

But those account for only one slice of the available jobs here, and with forestry such a cyclical industry, their long-term stability is perpetually in question.

It's meant that The Pas, population 5,513, has had to diversify beyond forestry (as well as agriculture, its other traditional industry). And, largely under the provincial radar, it has done just that.

The Manitoba government has certainly done its part. When you factor in the neighbouring reserve of Opaskwayak Cree Nation, The Pas has one provincial employee for every 23 residents, the highest ratio of any sizable community in the North.

Nearly 200 of those 365 jobs are at The Pas Correctional Centre. Crime doesn't pay, but for the home of northern Manitoba's only jail, it can at least reap economic rewards.

Just as education is touted as the future of young people, it is also a big part of The Pas' prospects. In 2010, the province committed $15 million to upgrade the impressive University College of the North campus.

The Northern Health Region boasts some 450 jobs here, a good number of which can be attributed to the fact that The Pas serves a district of about 15,000 people.

Even if The Pas itself shrinks, area reserves like OCN, Cormorant and Moose Lake are sure to grow. Indeed, some ventures here couldn't survive without the non-domestic traffic.

"The Pas has always been a major service sector for the area around it," explains Lonnie Karpick, president of The Pas Chamber of Commerce.

While traditionally the domain of its neighbours in Thompson and Flin Flon, The Pas may also get on board with mining, as McLauchlan says mineral exploration looks "extremely hopeful."

Then there are the small businesses, the sort of ventures that could be based most anywhere but, through local ingenuity, call this close-knit community home.

Entrepreneur Bruce Trampe's Protect-a-Tow is shipped around the globe. It's a screen that shields vehicles being towed behind motorhomes (and the motorhomes themselves) from flying debris.

McLauchlan himself, along with his family, runs Rocky Lake Birchworks Ltd., which produces tasty birch-tree syrup carrying the slogan "Your pancakes won't know what hit them."

If that weren't enough, OCN's business arm, Paskwayak Business Development Corp., has become a major player in the local economy. It operates more than a half-dozen enterprises, including a shopping mall and hotel.

It's to the point where even though The Pas lost residents in the last census, a housing shortage has emerged.

In response, town council has introduced a tax incentive for single-family housing and opened up new lakefront lots. Talks have also been held with developers, one of whom is planning a large housing project.

For McLauchlan, whose blue eyes and well-coiffed mustache highlight a friendly face, such projects are essential.

The mayor says while The Pas has long been viewed as "an exporter of youth," recent years have seen many young people return home to buy existing businesses or start new ones.

"Businesses such as welding shops, construction and renovation companies, (and) tackle shops, to name a few," he says.

Like McLauchlan, Karpick sees untapped potential around him. Specifically, he believes in better promoting tourism. And with so many gorgeous lakes and lush forestland, why not?

Looking ahead, McLauchlan expects The Pas to mirror Manitoba with slow, steady progress.

"We, as a community, do not want ... an explosion of growth with little or no planning," he says. "We are planning for the future -- five, 10, 20 years in the future -- which looks extremely bright."

Jonathon Naylor is editor of The Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2013 A15

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