Improving Prince Albert's economy key in 2014, Mayor Dionne says

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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Mayor Greg Dionne is seen in the mayor’s office, where he recently shared some ambitious plans for 2014. 

I believe Prince Albert is a hub for service, trucking, education and health, and so I think we have a great opportunity to work on all those four bases.

Looking back at 2013, Dionne said that the year served as a settling in and preparation for council’s subsequent three -- a process made more difficult by a sea change of city hall management. 

“As people know, we had some vacancy issues in 2013. Some were in our control and some were out of our control, but at the end of the day I think it’s going to work out,” Dionne said.

January will marking the turning of a curve, with long-time North Battleford city manager Jim Toye filling the Prince Albert city manager seat effective Jan. 1.

“There’s going to be very little learning curve, because being in North Battleford for as long as he has, he knows all the government contacts both federally and provincially, he knows all the civic contacts,” Dionne summarized “It’s not like we brought another guy from Ontario.”

It’ll be up to the city manager to assemble a new team at city hall, Dionne said, noting that Toye will be charged with finding a new director of corporate services to fill the recent vacancy left by Chris Cvik, as well as a new community services director to replace Greg Zeeben.

Improving the local economy will be the No. 1 goal behind the city’s ambitions for 2014, Dionne said -- a goal with many facets.

Earlier this year, the city unveiled its Regional Economic Action Committee -- an organization that Dionne expects will begin producing positive results as early as next year.

“The committee’s coming along excellent, and I think that in 2014, the residents will be pleasantly surprised by some of the announcements we’re going to make to grow our economic development base,” Dionne said.

“Now that we’re working together with our RMs to bring economic development, we’ve had other RMs that border on their RMs and a little further north to join us, because they think together we can drive economic development in the north.”

Economic development in the north will drive prosperity in Prince Albert, Dionne said, noting that many of the people who currently work in northern mines live in Prince Albert.

On top of attracting industry up north, the city has a ways to go in attracting business, both large-scale and small, to Prince Albert, Dionne said.

One potential solution will be a tax incentive, the details of which the mayor remains mum on until the plan has gone before public council.

But, he said that the tax incentive plan currently in its draft stage would include either a phasing in of taxation or a deal on the initial land purchase.

Their biggest-scale effort in the immediate Prince Albert area will be encouraging growth within the local forestry industry -- an effort Dionne said that the committee currently has “lots of irons in the fire to kick-start.”

“We have one of the largest harvestable reserves of lumber in North America, and it’s not being utilized,” he said.

With Paper Excellence’s ownership of the Prince Albert Pulp Mill handicapped by trade tariffs and a non-competitive agreement with its previous owner, Domtar, there’s plenty of work to be done, Dionne said.

We’re going to work with the RM of Prince Albert to ensure that where the location of the bridge is, wherever it’s to be built, that those lands are protected so that there’s no development in that zone allowed. Greg Dionne

“I think that the province, ourselves and the mill, have to work together to see how we can hurdle that, and to get that mill back up to where it’s got 300, 400 employees, because it’ll have a big benefit to our community.”

But, it’s not only Paper Excellence the committee is looking at when it comes to forestry, Dionne said -- it’s the industry as a whole. If the Prince Albert Pulp Mill is able to produce fluff pulp within 18 months, as they’ve planned, there’ll be a wide breadth of trickle-down jobs that will require attention.

“They need woodcutters, they need truckers, they need loaders -- so, the spinoff jobs are incredible,” Dionne concluded.

A big selling point in attracting business and industry to Prince Albert would be an expanded airport, Dionne said.

“Unfortunately, we’re handicapped by the location of the airport,” Dionne said, noting that the city only has enough space to expand their 5,000-foot runway to 6,500 feet -- about 1,000 feet shy of their desired length.

“Before we even go to the federal government and bother them, I think it’s prudent on our part to do the study to see if going to 6,500 will be an economic benefit to us,” he said.

Expanding to the west would be cost prohibitive, Dionne said, noting that they’d have to relocate the airport entrance road, as well as purchase “too much private land.”

Another selling point for the city when it comes to industrial and business growth would be a second North Saskatchewan River crossing to the east, Dionne said.

Although the provincial government has yet to classify this request as a “need,” Dionne said that the city will continue working toward their goal of a second bridge in Prince Albert.

“We’re going to work with the RM of Prince Albert to ensure that where the location of the bridge is, wherever it’s to be built, that those lands are protected so that there’s no development in that zone allowed,” he said. “You don’t want to have to pay because there’s a new house in the way, or a business.”

By providing these incentives, and by attracting business and industry through the efforts of the Regional Economic Action Committee, Dionne said that he hopes to “stop the exodus of our young people leaving.”

Although the population of Saskatchewan continues to increase, he notes that there are still young people leaving Saskatchewan for the “greener fields of Alberta.”

“I believe Prince Albert is a hub for service, trucking, education and health, and so I think we have a great opportunity to work on all those four basis.”

See the Daily Herald website and print edition later this week for the second part of Dionne’s year-end interview.

The second part is more financially focused, centering on what Dionne has confirmed will be another tax increase in 2014, as well as the city’s infrastructure deficit. 

Organizations: Prince Albert, Regional Economic Action Committee, Domtar Daily Herald

Geographic location: North Battleford, Ontario, North America Saskatchewan North Saskatchewan River Alberta

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