An important liaison meeting took place recently with the Portage and District Chamber of Commerce, the City of Portage la Prairie, and the RM of Portage la Prairie.  It focused on a form of recovery of jobs following the closure of some major provincial employers in the area including the Manitoba Developmental Centre and Aggasiz Youth Centre.

Chamber president Guy Moffat says the discussions served to raise some enlightening facts to the surface as to what’s going on in Portage.

“What we learned after speaking with the city, is they went into great detail about the investments that have been made in our water and wastewater treatment facility,” says Moffat. “Those investments, even though you can't really see them and feel them, have set us apart from anywhere else in Manitoba in the wet manufacturing sector. Cities the same size as us, like Winkler and Morden, just simply cannot compete with Portage la Prairie. We are over and above anyone else and the city is feeling that the wet industry opportunities are going to be our key to recovery.”

He explains Portage Regional Economic Development has been doing a tremendous amount of work and fielding a lot of calls and interest in the manufacturing world.

“The other piece that we learned is that not only is our community and the city going to be suffering loss of jobs from the closing of MDC and Agassiz, but there's also going to be a lot of tax revenue that is lost,” continues Moffat. “The city is working really hard to make sure that they are at the table for conversations about redeployment and reuses of those areas and facilities so that they can recupe, hopefully, some of that tax money. That's something that we haven't thought about at the chamber. The city also talked about their will and want to move away from publicly-funded employment and move towards more private funding.”

Moffat says it’s much easier to replace two or three small to medium businesses that might have 20 employees as opposed to one large employer that has 200, such as Agassiz.

“It's also a lot easier to attract those types of businesses and those types of jobs to our community,” notes Moffat. “We also talked about how commercial, residential and small business are all growing in order to meet the needs of the industry that has come and also other smaller industries that are coming to Portage in order to support the larger ones, like Simplot, McCain and Roquette. The other piece that the city talked about was diversity and making sure that we, as a municipal government and as a chamber, are keeping an eye on diversity.”

He says one important key element that repeatedly arose in their discussions was internet connectivity.

“That's something that the city has been very conscious of as well as the RM making sure that the people and businesses in Portage have access to reliable, fast internet for our tech sector to grow as well as to support employees who are continuing to work from home,” adds Moffat. “And the other piece that they talked about is the hydro grid and reliability and consistency of that hydro-electric power to our city, as well. So, as a chamber, these are all things that we are really concerned about in order for our businesses to grow, flourish, expand and diversify. We're really excited to hear that the city and RM are on target with all of these things. There are a lot of moving pieces to this, but the city and RM are keeping an eye on everything in order to make sure that our city recovers from these losses of jobs, but more than that, that we're going to grow after all this is done.”

Moffat says another point of discussion was the city’s talks with the province to ensure that if there was an opportunity to have some of these jobs redeployed to other departments within the government so that they could stay in Portage.

“For any individuals that who are looking to move or have a career shift, we also want to try and assist them to line them up with other employers in Portage la Prairie as best we can,” adds Moffat.

Internet connectivity may be something we really don’t take too seriously while sitting at home and casually shopping for something, says Moffat. However, he notes, it is extremely vital for some of the businesses in town, such as the theatre.

“Our theatre relies on the internet in order to display their movies and there are law firms and other businesses that are very tech-reliant and internet dependent,” notes Moffat. “Having that connectivity to our community is very, very important.”

He explains they’re seeking to get the word out that Portage’s future is extremely exciting.

“There's a lot of things that we don't necessarily see or hear about out and about in the community,” continues Moffat. “But there are many people working toward the prosperity of people in Portage la Prairie as well as business and industry. I think we're headed in the right direction. And I think we are going to have a little bit of a blip with some of these jobs being lost, but I think we're going to do more than recover what we may have been losing.”

Moffat stresses that the Chamber is comprised of businesses with the best interest of the community at stake.

“We are advocating and trying to gain information and make sure that we're all pulling in the same direction, basically,” adds Moffat.