By Vern May
One company’s investment is creating waves for all sectors of Portage la Prairie’s construction industry
Their smiles are irrepressible and who can blame them? After a 40-year flatline in population growth, Portage la Prairie is poised for the greatest economic boom in their 111-year history as a city. It’s an enthusiasm that you hear in the words of elected officials, see in the eyes of local merchants and find evidence of in the curiosity of new investment that is beginning to take shape in the region.
A prairie town and the pea
The ball started rolling in January 2017, with the announcement that Roquette, a France-based food and nutraceutical firm, would open their first Canadian site as part of their growing plant protein empire which is already present in 37 countries around the globe. Dubbed the “Portage Pea Project,” the 70-acre installation, to be situated directly south of the Simplot plant west of the city, is projected to become the largest facility of its kind for pea protein in the world. At the ground-breaking ceremony this past fall, Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler touted Roquette’s estimated $400-million project as the single largest industry investment in the province’s history.
Though this announcement alone created much to celebrate for the community, there were also those with their eyes on the horizon, recognizing that this project held the potential for a ripple effect of direct and indirect business expansion. With a projected 150 new jobs involved, there was active conversation about the positive impact this project could have on housing development, and what the influx of new residents could mean for commercial confidence in the market. But nobody could have anticipated what Portage has seen in the year since.
How do you top a year like that?
The question on everyone’s mind in the closing months of 2017 echoed almost like a challenge. After years of minimal activity in the industrial and commercial sector in Portage: “How do you top what ended as a $493-million investment year?”
It didn’t take long for that answer to reach the ears of the public. On February 14 of this year, the J.R. Simplot company convened a standing-room-only crowd to announce their plans to expand their Portage la Prairie operation. Creating 120 new positions, the investment in their Portage la Prairie plant was welcome news for Manitoba producers; there would be even more demand for Manitoba spuds.
The $460-million project eclipsed “Manitoba’s largest” announcement from the year prior and has contributed to even further enthusiasm about what the coming years look like for the region recently dubbed by Travel Manitoba as “The Island on the Prairies.”
More than $1 billion in new investment (and growing)
Bolstered by these two major projects, Portage la Prairie has become a focus of attention from commercial, industrial and residential developers. Now passed $1 billion in confirmed new investment, the level of activity in the construction sector has just begun to see an explosion.
From expansion by the Portage Consumer’s Co-op, Western Bearing and Portage Mutual Insurance, to new investments announced by the Great Canadian Dollar Store and Tesla in supercharging stations for electric vehicles, the volume and pace of interest in Portage continues to be steady.
With the anticipated growth before them, the Arrowhead Development Corporation – the economic development arm of Long Plain First Nation – has announced their plans to construct a 75-room Wyndham hotel at the west end of the city’s Crescent Lake as part of their growing urban reserve at Keeshkeemaquah. Longer term plans include the development of a 90-acre full service truck stop, which will represent the first of its kind for the province, along the Portage bypass on a parcel of land that was recently converted to treaty status.
In addition, four separate housing projects have also been approved, which will increase the rental capacity of Portage – that currently sits at a 97 per cent occupancy rate – by an additional 304 units over the next five years. This is further augmented by plans for an assisted living facility, as well as a 64-unit condominium project that has begun to see movement in recent months.
While the community already sees the results taking shape, it is important to recognize that in the minds of ratepayers, sometimes the initial swell of excitement can recede before the results fully materialize. It may be only a matter of time before the next challenge is leveled: “What are you doing now to continue the momentum?”
Some project ideas are already taking shape. Canadian Isolates Inc. has announced plans for a medicinal hemp operation to be situated in Newton, Man., just southeast of the City of Portage. The plant, which will begin construction in the near future, is slated to employ 25 to 30 full-time, plus seasonal, staff. The community is also seeing interest in 370 acres of industrial-zoned land both in the city and R.M. for other industries with negotiations currently underway.
On the heels of Roquette’s interest in Manitoba, it is important to recognize other European firms eyeing the North American market. According to the World Trade Centre Winnipeg, a growing number of European companies have started to take interest in Manitoba because of Roquette’s strong reputation across the Atlantic. As a result, Portage la Prairie was represented at a global forum in the Netherlands this spring. Representatives promoted doing business in Canada, as well as directly met with firms who hope to expand into this market.
A hot spot for construction
Over the next two years, Portage la Prairie appears to be a ripe market for construction trades of all sizes to generate significant business for their firms. From projects on the scale of Roquette – which has created an online portal at www.portagepeaproject.com for interested vendors and suppliers to register and put themselves on the company’s radar – through to the additional $700 million-plus in other developments slated for the community in the near future, chances are that you and someone you know will be successful in landing work in Portage la Prairie.
Are you prepared to catch the wave to secure your benefit from the ripple effect of Portage la Prairie’s success?
Vern May is the executive director of Portage Regional Economic Development.
Photos provided by Portage Regional Economic Development