It's more than a year since the Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group (TEDWG) was launched on May 18, 2011 and Mayor Tim Johnston said earlier this month the "economic diversification plan" for the era after Vale closes its surface smelter and refinery operations after 54 years here in 2015 is "well underway" and "TEDWG is ready for action."
Vale is "funding the process," Johnston noted, and the roundtable work is being supported by Toronto-based consultants rePlan, a Canadian firm "with decades of experience helping resource-based companies and communities adapt to change."
However, while rePlan has been helping TEDWG with its work since last May and is on board officially until the end of the year, its role is about to start winding down as of the end of June.
Ryan Land, manager of corporate affairs for Vale's Manitoba Operations, said last week in response to an email query, "While we have not yet released the total investment by Vale into this process, we can confirm that it has been in excess of $1 million. The first phase of the process is nearly concluded and will result in several concrete action plans that will be ready for implementation, and while we expect to be a part of that implementation, it will not be our work alone.
"It will be up to all levels of government, the community of Thompson, our broader region as defined by the process, other businesses that have a stake in Thompson's future, and all of the stakeholders, to ensure that the actions are carried out and the plans are implemented. Collectively, we will have laid out the road map for Thompson's long-term future."
Land said May 23, "It remains to be seen, at the conclusion of Phase One, in what capacity rePlan may be engaged, but we do know that some of the work will need to carry on into the fall of this year."
Thompson Unlimited, the city's economic development agency created in 2003 as the Thompson Community Development Corporation, before changing its name in 2005 to Thompson Unlimited, and funded by Vale since its inception, also serves as a resource to the Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group. Vale provided Thompson Unlimited with $250,000 per year for $2.5 million in special funding over 10 years until 2013.
A year ago tomorrow – last June 1 – the City of Thompson and Vale announced agreement on grant-in-lieu (GIL) payments from the company for the years 2011 and 2012. Vale committed to provide payment of $6 million per year for 2011 and 2012 – the maximum amount payable under the current GIL agreement – as well as an additional $250,000 per year for the continued economic development work of Thompson Unlimited.
That continued the practice established by Vale for the previous two years of voluntary top-ups to the annual GIL payment above forecast payments (which for 2011 and 2012 were in the range of $5.4 million).
Under a special agreement signed Dec. 3, 1956 between the Province of Manitoba's F.C. Bell, minister of mines and natural resources, and International Nickel Company of Canada Limited's R.D. Parker, vice-president and general manager, and secretary William F. Kennedy, Vale has the unique power in Thompson to set its own municipal tax rate – or hypothetically pay nothing at all – through the voluntary grant-in-lieu of taxes. The current agreement between the four parties – the City of Thompson, Local Government District of Mystery Lake and the School District of Mystery Lake – expires Dec. 31, 2012.
Inco, Vale's predecessor, opened its $185-million smelter and refinery in Thompson, the world's first fully integrated nickel operation, on March 25, 1961. Vale announced it would close the Thompson smelter and refinery on Nov. 17, 2010 and transition its operations here to mining and milling by 2015. With a possible loss perhaps of 250 jobs (no one knows for sure yet), that would represent about $32.5 million in annual payroll and about 20 per cent of Vale's Thompson workforce in a worst-case scenario. Underground mining operations at T-1, T-3 and Birchtree mines are slated to continue. As well, new underground mining possibilities exist if either or both the 1-D and Pipe-Kipper projects should come to fruition. Vale has said it plans to invest more than $1 billion extending the life of the mines in Thompson and introducing new sources of ore.
Meanwhile, Vale is building a $2.8 billion- state-of-the-art processing facilities in Long Harbour in southeast Newfoundland on Placentia Bay. It is scheduled for completion in the first quarter of next year. The Long Harbour plant is Vale's first processing facility in Canada located on tidewater. It will process nickel concentrate produced at Voisey's Bay, which has been processed in Thompson, the company says.
Johnston says, "The Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group and affiliated subcommittees continue to meet and develop priority projects in the areas of housing and education and training. Implementation of priority projects will create the environment necessary to foster economic diversification in Thompson and the region immediately and over the long-term. These plans focus on job creation, economic development and community sustainability."
Johnston said, "Recent outcomes include draft baseline reports on housing and education and training. These reports highlight current issues and strengths and provide insights into where to focus energy and attention as the work advances. Presentations were made on these reports at a full-day workshop on April 24. Workshop participants also worked to develop project criteria to help evaluate and determine the best way to take action. Using the information gathered at this workshop along with all the other data collected, implementable projects will be developed and included in the housing and education and training action plans."
The April 24 workshop had local stakeholders, including Joe Armstrong, manager, maintenance services and support, smelting and refining, and Land, in attendance from Vale; Coun. Charlene Lafreniere, representing the City of Thompson and director of institutional advancement at University College of the North (UCN); city manager Gary Ceppetelli; Jessica Mills, director of planning and community development for the city; Arelene Katchmar, administrative assistant for the YWCA of Thompson; Dawn Sands, executive director of the Thompson Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation (TNRC); John Donovan, Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM) Northern regional director; R.D. Parker Collegiate vice-principal Rob Watt; Mark Matiasek, general manager of Thompson Unlimited; Paullette Simkins, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Burntwood Region and the Nanatowiho Wikamik Homeless Shelter, also known as the Thompson Homeless Shelter; Reg Mead, mayor of Wabowden and president of the Northern Association of Community Councils (NACC); Freda Lepine, First Nations employment and training co-ordinator at Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO); Jim Beardy, director of community and technical services for the Keewatin Tribal Council (KTC) ; Penny Brenton from Futures Marymound; Mildred Osborne, manager of the Keewatin Housing Association; Liz Sousa, project manager with the Northern Manitoba Sector Council (NMSC); Doris Young, assistant to the president on aboriginal affairs at UCN; Agnes Bignell, property services clerk at the Opaskwayak Cree Nation Housing Authority; Leslie Tucker, Northern region manager for Employment Manitoba; and Career Trek founder and chief executive officer Darrell Cole.
From rePlan, Michelle Drylie, Paul Farish, John van Nostrand, Pamela Ritchot and Laura Mannell were all in attendance. Drylie is an award-winning University of Toronto graduate who picked up the Canadian Institute of Planners Award for Academic Excellence, a Centre for Urban and Community Studies Urban Planning Research Award, and the Edie Yolles Award in Urban Planning.
Among the experts on hand were Bill Bumstead, administrator of program development for the Neeginan Institute of Applied Technology, the post-secondary training division of the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resources Development (CAHRD) in Winnipeg; University of Winnipeg geographer Evelyn Peters, the school's research chair in inner-city issues, community learning and engagement; Tom Carter, of Carter Research, the Canada research chair in urban change and adaptation at the University of Winnipeg's Institute of Urban Studies; and John Baker, general manager of Inner City Renovations (ICR) in Winnipeg.
"Progress is also being made on the fostering a local and regional identity priority area," Johnston said. "The subcommittee is now determining a framework for carrying out a place branding strategy. Ideas around how best to engage the community in this work and improve Thompson's image as a place to live, work and play are being discussed. A plan for how to move forward with the place branding strategy will be in place by the end of June."
Johnston says the Thompson's Economic Diversification Working Group will share its work with residents and provide an opportunity for input and feedback at open house June 7 at St. Joseph's Ukrainian Hall. The doors will open at 4 p.m. with presentations starting at 7 p.m.
The Thompson's Economic Diversification Working Group, through rePlan, also offer opportunities for public input and updates at the website: www.ourthompson.ca