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A natural fit

The self-proclaimed “Hub of the North” certainly lives up to its name. Sioux Lookout is not only an area of scenic lakeside beauty, it's well positioned to be a community of strategic opportunity.
The self-proclaimed “Hub of the North” certainly lives up to its name.

The self-proclaimed “Hub of the North” certainly lives up to its name.

Sioux Lookout is not only an area of scenic lakeside beauty, it's well positioned to be a community of strategic opportunity.

The northwestern Ontario town of 5,500 acts as a health care, retail, administrative and logistics service centre for a larger population of 30,000, mostly Aboriginal people from 29 remote First Nation communities, plus an additional stream of 20,000 tourists every year.

Sioux Lookout is located halfway between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, 67 kilometres north of the Trans-Canada Highway at the end of Highway 72.

The community houses a labour force numbering 3,443, mainly in sales and service occupations with many others employed in the health sciences, business and finance, and trades and transportation jobs.

Sioux Lookout has been on a growth curve in recent years with more than $250 million in capital project spending including a new 60-bed hospital and adjoining hostel, court house, airport upgrades, a downtown revitalization effort, urban lot development, and ongoing construction on a new Ministry of Natural Resources Fire Management Centre.

“We're very strong in health care, education and social services,” said Florence Bailey, Sioux Lookout's economic development officer. “We're a growing community, we have lots of opportunity, but we're under-serviced.”

The community is open and receptive to hosting a wide spectrum of new retail development on parcels of land that are available for commercial and light-industrial opportunities.

“My office is very busy in providing information to interested developers who want information on what services are here,” said Bailey.

“We have sold some municipal property in anticipation of development happening this summer that we're quite excited about.”

Mineral exploration is providing hope for the future and Sioux Lookout is eager to catch any spinoffs with junior miners working in the area such as Tamaka Gold, AurCrest Gold, Rockex Mining and Gold Canyon Resources.

The municipality is gaining exposure with appearances at regional industry trade shows to meet the miners and develop working relations with these companies.

With three tribal council offices in town, Bailey helps facilitate meetings between the miners and local First Nations.

A proposed infrastructure study has been released on an east-west transportation corridor geared to regional mineral development. Bailey said there's definite interest on Sioux Lookout's part in a plan that would provide year-round access to previously isolated First Nation communities.

Foresty and the lumber industry is also back on solid footing with the reopening of McKenzie Lumber Inc. and log and chip hauling picking up on local highways.

Sioux Lookout has chosen to align itself with area First Nations in seeking economic development opportunities.

“Where we see a lot of our growth is in First Nation businesses,” said Bailey.

The Lac Seul First Nation has opened a skills training centre in nearby Hudson and is engaged in a number of partnerships on the mineral exploration and forestry front.

“Lac Seul is operating the Tim Hortons franchise which is a huge benefit for the community,” said Bailey. “We're meeting quite regularly to talk about projects that we can work on together and areas we need to focus on where we have common interests.”

The Sioux Lookout Municipal Airport is one of Ontario's busiest in aviation traffic with scheduled flights into remote communities by Bearskin Airlines, Wasaya Airways and various charter companies.

A 10-year capital plan has started which includes $20 million in upgrades and new construction including designs for a new $12-million terminal building. About 122,000 passengers flowed through the existing 50-year terminal in 2012, a number that grows by 5,000 every year.

The airport's extensive property holdings make it ideal as an industrial park with more than 20 acres of fully-serviced lots available for both aviation and non-aviation related business.

Close by, at Bigwood Lake, the municipality will be focusing on future development opportunities with ideas such as a new hotel, conference centre and shopping mall under consideration.

To improve the quality of life, the town has made some deft investments with downtown revitalization with refurbishments to its Heritage Railway Station, which serves as a Via Rail whistle stop, and the transformation of the former Sioux Hotel into the Centennial Centre, an arts and culture facility with leasing opportunities.

Despite years of enduring the economic downturn in forestry, Bailey said Sioux Lookout has maintained a strong economy that's reflected in its MPAC property assessment and above-average wage and household income.

“We take pride in that.”