Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives say they want to streamline rural economic development and, to that end, they have promised a central office in Brandon if re-elected.
The new economic development office became the latest promise on the PC campaign trail Aug. 29, during a media event in Brandon.
“The office itself is not designed to just serve Brandon’s needs, it’s designed to serve all of Manitoba’s needs and certainly, specifically, to help focus attention on helping develop job creation projects in rural Manitoba and to help avoid overlap,” PC leader Brian Pallister said.
“There’s been a lot of that in the past,” he added, citing the typical jostling and local tax incentives normally seen between areas when a company comes to Manitoba looking to set up shop.
“We want to get away from that,” he said. “Manitoba has some growing advantages over our competitors and we want to make sure that we’re not stepping all over each other, that we’re going after more opportunities, not fewer.”
The office would help match business opportunities with suitable areas, according to Pallister.
A board of directors will oversee the office and will help align it with any economic development organizations communities already have, a release from the Progressive Conservatives said.
The office would be modelled on feedback from the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) and the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce. Both groups consulted with their stakeholders and advised the province during Pallister’s first term in office.
“There’s a lot more work yet to do in terms of developing what the agency would look like, how it’s going to be staffed,” Association of Manitoba Municipalities executive director Joe Masi said, in response to the announcement.
The AMM outlined a patchwork of rural economic development efforts during its talks with the province. Masi says he has seen frustration from entrepreneurs wanting to open businesses in Manitoba, but unclear on how to go about it.
“There needed to be an agency that could sort of pull together all the programs, kind of a one-stop shopping that would bring some coherent strategy to economic development,” Masi said.
That role would range from potential business owners needing guidance in rural Manitoba to municipalities looking to develop industry to helping match incoming companies with well-suited areas for their business, he added.
At the other end, he said, communities had to be poised to take advantage of those opportunities when they came along.
The AMM and organizations like EDAM (the Economic Developers Association of Manitoba) have introduced a new certification program and training modules to help address that issue. The program includes material on setting up a business feasibility study and taking the measure of the labour and infrastructure available in a given area.
The promised office does not have to host all the rural economic development initiatives, he added, “but they will certainly be the connector to get people through the red tape of what they need.”
Rural development has been a long-standing issue and the AMM has passed on its priorities, including economic development, to all parties in the upcoming election, he also noted.
Finer details of the project have yet to emerge.
Pallister could not say how much the office would cost to set up, where it would be located in Brandon or what staffing would look like, saying only that those details would depend on recommendations from the AMM and Manitoba Chamber of Commerce.
Pallister also acknowledged rural concerns with urban drain, a common complaint in areas watching their populations decrease in favour of urban areas. Certain business will be better suited for certain areas, he said, while the office’s role will be to find synergies.
“It’s making sure that we match the opportunity with the capital so that it can come and be put at risk in the right location to generate the maximum benefits to the company — obviously, that has to happen first — but also the ancillary benefits to us in terms of job creation, growing communities, improving services,” he said.
Private investment has been a repeat talking point for Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives, both during the election and their term in government. The party recently released a target of 40,000 new private sector jobs in its second term if re-elected.