PLEDCO holds AGM in Jans Bay

Primrose Lake Economic Development Corporation (PLEDCO) president Calvin Maurice (left) and CEO Norman Johnson discuss the group’s annual repot prior to the PLEDCO AGM held Sept. 28 at Jans Bay.

Primrose Lake Economic Development Corporation president Calvin Maurice (left) and CEO Norman Johnson discuss the group’s annual repot prior to the PLEDCO AGM Sept. 28 at Jans Bay.

by Phil Ambroziak

Although the journey hasn’t been an entirely smooth one, four communities in northern Saskatchewan continue on the road to greater economic development.

Close to 30 people – representing the Northern Villages of Ile-a-la Crosse and Beauval, as well as the Northern Hamlets of Cole Bay and Jans Bay – gathered at the Jans Bay community hall Sept. 28 for the Primrose Lake Economic Development Corporation’s (PLEDCO) annual general meeting. While PLEDCO officials say efforts to improve economic development in the North are on the rise, they also admit there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“We’ve been going through so many applications from people looking for some sort of funding to help them start a business – it’s been a tough process,” remarked PLEDCO president Calvin Maurice of Jans Bay. “However, we tend to favour the applications from existing businesses looking to expand or improve their current operation over those from people trying to get started with something entirely new.”

According to PLEDCO CEO and Ile-a-la Crosse resident Norman Johnson, the reason for this stems from the lack of training currently available to northern residents.

“That’s the challenge,” he said. “Not too many people are knowledgeable when it comes to business, and they don’t have any management training. There are so many great ideas coming forward, but not enough managers in the area. We need to start training and we also need more skilled labourers.”

Maurice agreed.

“When I was first starting out with PLEDCO, I had no idea what a business plan was,” he added. “It has been a learning process for our entire board.”

PLEDCO is a non-profit organization that was formed five years ago to promote and assist economic development in its four member communities, all of which were impacted by the development of the Primrose Lake Air Weapons Range in the 1950s. Decades later, to compensate residents who were displaced from their land, the federal and provincial governments provided $17.5 million in trust. From this, PLEDCO funds its day-to-day operations and works toward re-establishing a financial foothold for the four affected communities.

“We help people with business planning, and we provide equity to help people get other business loans or grants,” Johnson said. “But, a lot of it also goes toward buying equipment – things like graders and sewer trucks.”

One thing the group would also like to establish in the near future is a skills training centre that would be used to replicate a remote camp setting. Johnson said the plan is to offer two programs at first – a security guard training program and a professional driving program – both of which could help residents find work away from home.

“There are so few jobs available in the actual communities,” he noted.

There are also plans in place to attract more people from outside the area. According to PLEDCO’s annual report, Cole Bay is working toward establishing itself as a resort village. Located not too far from the Meadow Lake Provincial Park, Cole Bay has reportedly been asked by the park’s lands manager to help address growing demand by would-be cottage dwellers. Both Maurice and Johnson agree, however, economic development of any kind within Cole Bay and Jans Bay is risky considering the condition of Highways 905 and 965.

“The roads are bad here – if we get even a half-day of rain, it’s impossible to drive here,” Johnson said. “We’d be happy to do what we can to generate more revenue if it means improved highways.”

Maurice said roads have been a topic raised by all four member communities, but added it’s also a subject best left to the politicians.

“All I know for sure is how heartbreaking it is whenever I go South and see all the paving projects going on down there,” he said. “It makes me wonder why can’t the same thing happen here?”

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