Western Manitoba Pursues a $330 Million Economic Opportunity

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Integral Strategy Network is helping communities in Western Manitoba work together on a major regional development opportunity that promises to deliver significant economic benefits. Other communities would gain from following their collaborative approach.

Increasing Regional Prosperity

Brandon, Manitoba, and four other communities in Western Manitoba are seeking to attract investment in a new soybean processing plant valued at approximately $330 million. The plant could create between 60 and 100 direct jobs, and will lead to other spin-off benefits.

An economic study in 2015 identified the opportunity, but there was insufficient supply at that time to make a plant feasible. However, the number of acres of soybeans planted in Manitoba and Saskatchewan grew from 1.88 million in 2016 to 3.15 million in 2017. A plant is now viable. It is expected that soybean production will continue to increase in the coming decade. There are no significant soybean processing facilities in western Canada, and Western Manitoba is an ideal geographic location.

Livestock producers will benefit significantly. Local soybeans are currently shipped to the United States for processing, and are turned into animal feed that is then re-imported. Eliminating transportation costs could double the profits from hog production, stimulating investment and increasing employment in the livestock industry. The price paid for soybeans is also expected to increase slightly when the plant creates a larger market for the crop. Together, these two developments will help to create a more profitable farm community.

There are significant environmental benefits as well, including reduced emissions related to shipping to and from the United States, and benefits from growing the crop itself. Soybeans fix nitrogen. If hog manure is used as an added source of nutrients, the need for fertilizer will be reduced significantly.

A Community-Driven Initiative

Integral Strategy Network met with community representatives in the fall of 2016 to discuss the opportunity, and the Westman Opportunities Leadership Group (WOLG) was formed to guide plant attraction efforts. The group includes farm, business and civic leaders. WOLG co-hosted a workshop with the Rural Development Institute (RDI) at Brandon University in November 2017, where agricultural experts from Canada and the United States provided information on the soybean supply chain, the profile of a typical soybean processing facility, and related challenges and opportunities.

Communities in the region believe a strong, coordinated approach is the best way to ensure that such a facility is attracted. Stakeholders have committed to working together for the common good, knowing that broad support will be needed, that only a single plant is ultimately likely to be built, and that a facility located anywhere in Manitoba will benefit the entire province. Five communities have provided seed funding for the initiative – Brandon, Virden, Carberry, Neepawa and Russsell-Binscarth. The Provincial and Federal Governments have provided additional funding, and key producer groups have signaled their support.

Attracting a Major Investor

Regional stakeholders came together in February and March 2018 to develop a Strategy Roadmap that will be used to guide attraction efforts. Participants included representatives of the five communities; the Association of Manitoba Municipalities; Assiniboine Community College; Brandon University; Entrepreneurship Manitoba; Manitoba Agriculture; Manitoba Growth, Enterprise & Trade; and Manitoba Hydro. The Westman Opportunities Leadership Group and the Rural Development Institute were also represented. An open house was held on March 22, 2018, to share the results with others and attract additional support from the larger community.

Work will now begin on an integrated multi-phase, multi-year attraction program to secure investment in a world-scale plant. Integral Strategy Network will engage the appropriate expertise and coordinate the attraction effort, based on required actions identified in the Strategy Roadmap. Industry experts will help to further define the opportunity. This will include analyzing:

  • the western Canada soybean sector;
  • the market for soybean-based products;
  • plant design details and infrastructure requirements;
  • potential competing jurisdictions; and
  • profiles of communities capable of hosting the plant.

The project team will develop materials based on the information that is collected. At that point, more intense conversations will begin with prospective investors.

Building Regional Capacity

It is highly likely that other jurisdictions will compete for this opportunity. The Westman Region aims to be first, and community participation will be critical for its success. The collaborative capacity that is created now will also strongly position the region to be able to effectively pursue other opportunities in the future.

Attracting the plant will have many spin-off benefits, including opportunities for Brandon University and Assiniboine Community College to provide technical training for plant employees, and opportunities to pursue new research at Brandon University and other Manitoba universities related to the genetic improvement of soybeans for growing conditions in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The initiative is strongly aligned with the mission of Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute in economic and community development. The Institute is already providing key expertise and logistical support.

Integral Strategy Network works with organizations to help tackle their toughest, most enduring challenges.

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David Forrest

David is the founder of the Integral Strategy Network. He is a writer, futurist, strategist, and facilitator of systemic change.

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