The Mattawa area was hit hard when its major industry closed its doors about five years ago.
“We went from 1,100 jobs to 600 jobs. We lost half our labour force,” said Robert Corriveau, mayor of Papineau-Cameron Twp. and chairman of the Mattawa-Bonfield Economic Development Corporation (MBEDC).
Despite the loss of the former Tembec sawmill, property values never diminished in the area and it appears small business is steadily increasing and adding jobs.
“We have encouraged and stimulated a lot of small businesses and it is coming around. People gauge you by the big benchmark. It would be great if it came, but we are gaining on a smaller scale. These small businesses are successful and will be stable,” he said.
The MBEDC represents Mattawa, Bonfield, Calvin, Mattawan and Papineau- Cameron and has been working behind the scenes since it was created in 2004.
From 2011 to 2012, it worked on 80 projects and helped create 80 new jobs.
“Yes, we lost our biggest employer which was the mill, and we worked hard to save the asset from destruction, but we didn’t stop there. All five municipalities are working together and building all these other opportunities,” said Jason McMartin, economic development director with MBEDC.
The main industry has always been forestry, but there are gains in other sectors. Gin-Cor Industries, a heavy truck upfitter, has expanded and added more jobs.
Gin-Cor specializes in heavy truck-mounted accessories such as dump boxes, cranes and roll-offs. In 2012, it built a new 18,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, in addition to its 20,000-square-foot plant. Twelve new jobs were created and an additional 12 to 15 are expected in the near future.
Tact Industrial built a new 4,800-square-foot fabrication facility and created three self-employed positions. It does metal fabrication, industrial refinishing and mechanical and electrical work.
The King of the North Dragway, one of only four dragways in the province, is set to open this season in the Bonfield area. It is anticipated that major races will attract up to 3,000 people to the track.
“That will be a huge plus for the region,” McMartin said.
Attempts to reopen Mount Antoine Ski Hill are still ongoing, and it was anticipated that it would be open for business last season. Private investors and the federal government provided funding, but an application to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation wasn’t approved.
“We would have had the hill open the fall of 2012 if the provincial government would have come through on its part,” he said. “It was a small contribution compared to what the private investors were putting up. It would have helped the tourism sector and create jobs.”
The same group of investors is creating another business plan with the hope to get it operational for the next ski season.
The ski hill, which has a 630-foot vertical drop and provides scenic views of the Ottawa River, closed in 2000. It was purchased in 2004 by a private corporation, and since then attempts have been made to reopen it.
Some entrepreneurs from outside the area have been attracted to the Mattawa area and have established businesses. A couple from Britain chose to settle in the region to develop their technology – a new tourism guide for smartphones – and expand it for the rest of the province and possibly Canada.
“It’s a first in Canada,” Corriveau said. “We convinced them to use this region because they were looking throughout the province. I met them personally and finally got them here. They were doing this kind of work in Britain, and thought they would offer it here.”
Other startups include a graphics business, an outdoor adventure business that will tie in to the existing multi-use trail systems and cash cropping by rejuvenating abandoned and neglected farmland.
Mattawa is also home to a Tim Hortons outlet, which will complement the existing hospitality facilities in the area and attract people who might not have stopped in the town before.
“Economic development is a process and takes years to complete, with work done behind the scenes,” McMartin said. “This office and the mayor's are working hard to attract business here but the community has to do their part as well. We all have to work together to sell this region.”
A bad experience in the area could mean a potential entrepreneurial venture would be thwarted.
“We are committed to the long-term development of this area,” Corriveau said. “It will happen. People have to realize we work in the background to make these things happen and someone has to be focused on this. Municipalities can’t do it all themselves.”