The construction of two power plants in the Battlefords over the next three years will have a profound economic impact in the region.
The estimated dollar impacts are eye-popping: $950 million to build (the Canadian Light Source - the synchrotron in Saskatoon was a mere $180 million) and a conservative estimate of local impact on spending of at least $77 million with a provincial impact on spending of up to $440 million. Based on a minimum of 300 construction jobs, an additional 224 jobs in the immediate area will be created in economic spin-offs. The Battlefords and the North West Enterprise Region will be home to the hottest economy in Saskatchewan, if not Canada.
Waking up a slumbering economy will create some growing pains. In the fall of 2009, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation suggested North Battleford had a vacancy rate of 0.9 per cent. With almost no apartment building activity over the past three decades, the pressure on rental availability and pricing will be immediate. Basements will be converted to suites for extra income. Available property within 50 kilometres of the Battlefords will either be sold or rented. Pricing is going to increase rapidly.
The construction industry employs 524 people in the Battlefords according to the 2006 census. These projects will increase that by 55 per cent and that doesn't include the new recreation facilities that will be built at the same time at a cost of approximately $50 million. Overall employment will increase by almost six per cent in the Battlefords. As a business owner or manager expect rapid wage increases and movement of employees as new opportunities become available at higher wages. More people will move in to fill jobs, but housing availability will hamper efforts to attract employees.
What will the average resident notice? Truck traffic, longer lines at Tim Hortons, no available tables in restaurants, help wanted signs everywhere, packed schools, house prices increasing, more new retail, new hotels, no available campsites, car and truck washes swamped, less available tee times, service industry delays, vehicles with plates from Ontario and Alberta, and revitalized downtowns.
What happens after the construction is completed? The boom may not be over. Investment tends to attract more investment. A new Saskatchewan Hospital could be built next ($150 million). The Battlefords were underdeveloped in many retail and service areas and this will be the time to launch new sustainable businesses. Oil and gas and mining activities are ramping up to the north and south and Highway 4 is a key transportation route for large equipment not just for Saskatchewan, but to Fort McMurray.
The Battlefords will boom. The biggest challenge may be getting everyone who lives here now to believe it.
- Christopher Doll is the CEO of Nuguru Business and Marketing Consultants Inc., a company specializing in economic development and business consulting.