ECONOMIC development officials in communities along the Yellowhead Highway know their region has a lot to offer the larger global investment community.

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This article was published 29/1/2016 (2060 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ECONOMIC development officials in communities along the Yellowhead Highway know their region has a lot to offer the larger global investment community.

It's already home to a Bunge Canada canola-crushing plant near Russell, a Husky ethanol plant in Minnedosa, HyLife's pork processing plant in Neepawa and food-processing operations from the likes of McCain Foods, Simplot and Richardson International in Portage la Prairie.

But they also realize they need better tools in order to show it off.

That's why economic development offices in Portage la Prairie, Neepawa, Minnedosa, Shoal Lake and Russell have banded together to start marketing the advantages as a region.

The loosely aligned Yellowhead Corridor Partnership -- all those communities are on Highway 16 -- has set out to do what it takes, so at least they will be ready when opportunity calls.

'They want to know what our value proposition is. That's not even language we are using in Manitoba'

Vern May, economic development officer in Minnedosa, said there was a certain attitude that had existed in the past.

"People used to think that we have a pretty nice place to live here, and we have lots of land to develop, it should be swell for people who want to spend their money here," he said.

But he said the problem is there has never been a strategic approach taken to identify the types of industries that make the most sense.

Not only that, most of these communities have no appropriate way to show prospective investors exactly what the community has to offer.

Food processing, nutraceuticals and some resource industries are the most prominent focus.

"We have a competitive and comparative advantage over the rest of the globe we might as well start utilizing to bring more money into the province," said Douglas Barill, May's counterpart in Portage la Prairie.

The problem is, if a site selector actually came around with the next canola crusher or frozen french fry producer looking for a greenfield development site, they don't really have the material to make the best sales pitch.

"They want to know what our value proposition is," said May. "That's not even language we are using in Manitoba."

Through Barill's office at Portage Regional Economic Development, the Yellowhead Corridor Partnership has applied for federal funding to produce the kind of material that would at least allow the region to stay in the game.

The plan is to retain CAI Global, a Montreal-based site-selector firm that has already spent some time training economic development officers from small-town Manitoba.

Marc Beauchamp, a vice-president and partner with CAI Global, said it makes sense for the communities to band together to pitch as a region.

"They were not ready. That was part of the training," Beauchamp said. "Another interesting aspect is that you don't need to just look at your own community. You can regroup and be a region with something to offer."

Part of the pitch is the region can draw a workforce out of a regional population of 60,000 within a one-hour drive.

Greg Dandewich, the senior vice-president of Economic Development Winnipeg, said it is encouraging that rural Manitoba communities are mobilizing themselves.

"As a collective, they are worth more than as independent communities," he said. "Even for Winnipeg to take a capital-region perspective, it better positions the value proposition."

While there is a good argument to be made for the Yellowhead Corridor to be an attractive location for new food-processing industries, for example, the fact is Manitoba is one of the last places in Canada to be considered when it come to foreign direct investment.

According to a Conference Board of Canada report a couple of years ago, Manitoba was dead last among the 10 provinces in a foreign direct investment index that measures a region's share of that investment relative to its share in global gross domestic product.

That's why retaining and ensuring ongoing development of existing business is paramount for regional economic development activity.

"I work with Fortune 500 companies with $10 billion to $15 billion in revenue that will target smaller communities for different reasons," Beauchamp said. "So it is possible. It's not pie in the sky. But you also have to work at attracting but also retaining the ones you have."

Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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