Put welcome mat out for investors: ACRE

Increasing employment and population in rural Saskatchewan will take 20

years and $40 billion in new investment, mostly from the private

sector, says a report prepared for a committee examining the province’s

rural economy.

“The Saskatchewan treasury is too small to fund this investment and

what scarce public money is available will likely be needed to invest

in the social (schools, health care, etc.) and physical (highways,

communications, etc.) infrastructure,” said the Action Committee on the

Rural Economy’s final report, which was released April 29 in Regina.

ACRE hired two consultants to find out what is required to boost the

rural economy.

Ken Perlich of Econex and Doug Elliott of Sask Trends Monitor looked at

the economy’s current state and how it could be improved over the next

20 years.

They found that most of the new employment – about 90,000 jobs – and

growth in gross domestic product would come in the construction and

service sectors if the investment is made and the rural population

grows to 800,000 from 575,000 to provide the labour force.

However, this will result from about 33,000 jobs created by the three

economic drivers: primary agriculture; natural resources; and

manufacturing and processing. Those three sectors would require

slightly more than half the new investment.

Brad Wildeman, president of Pound-Maker AgVentures in Lanigan and chair

of ACRE’s agri-value subcommittee, said tax reduction and regulatory

change will make it easier to attract that kind of money.

“Investment capital will flow to where it is most welcome, and we must

be sure that our welcome mat is clearly visible,” he told the

provincial standing committee on agriculture April 29.

He said there are a lot of jurisdictions competing for business. When

he talks to Canadian agri-business leaders, they don’t know enough

about the province to want to invest here, he said.

“We’re just not perceived as being a place where a lot of business

establishes,” he said.

“When we had the chance to sort of tell them our story about

Saskatchewan and the opportunity here, I mean many of them had never

heard it. And so we need to be out there more actively selling

ourselves.”

His committee recommended that the province develop a strategy and

establish investment teams to help agri-businesses locate in

Saskatchewan.

While private sector money is needed, he said a lot of people still

look for a commitment from government.

He noted that communities do raise money for projects, such as

intensive livestock operations, but often can’t raise enough.

“We have to have these top-up funds or we simply can’t get there.”

His committee also recommended that the province conduct a

comprehensive review to assess its competitive status.

As well, it suggested a number of tax measures to make the province

more attractive.

For example, an expiring value-added tax credit would encourage enough

activity and employment to generate a new tax base from which to repay

the incentive, he said.

It wouldn’t require up-front cash, but would benefit those who want to

develop new ventures.

Wildeman also noted that a change in immigration policy could free up

significant money from outside Canada for use in Saskatchewan. That

fits with the consultants’ suggestion that there be a significant

increase in international and interprovincial migration to Saskatchewan

to meet the population target.

“In the final analysis, it will be up to private individuals, companies

and communities to build this dream of a new revitalized rural

economy,” Wildeman said.

“Governments need to create the climate, provide the incentive,

encourage the development, but then step out of the way.”

Agriculture and rural revitalization minister Clay Serby said finding

capital is clearly the biggest challenge.

The government can modify or enact regulations to make the province

more investor-friendly, but has to set funding priorities.

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