Even though the Town of Manitouwadge is experiencing some hefty economic set backs, Brian Knight, the chief administrative officer and manager of the economic development corporation, is following a municipal plan to keep the town on the map as an economic engine of the North.
Recent cutbacks in the forest and softwood industry have hit Manitouwadge and have left 20 woodland employees out of work at the Buchanan Forest Products site, and another 150 to 200 employees facing impending layoffs in the neighbouring town of Dubreuilville, says superintendent of woodland operations Jack Gulka.
Newmont Canada Ltd. is closing at the end of 2006, and has already started handing out lay-off notices to 60 workers, of which a majority live in Manitouwadge.
Residents experiencing lay offs have an option to sell their houses to the mines.
“They have a heck of a deal with Newmont,” says Al Galbraith, partner of Select Property Homes. “The (workers) sell them back to the mine at what they paid, plus an incremental increase over the years.”
Under the project, dubbed Northwood Lake Homes, Galbraith buys them back from the mine and does the necessary cleaning, painting and repairs. Once the house is ready for resale, Select Property markets them to residents living in southern and western Ontario.
“We get a lot of blue-collar workers who are probably retiring out of Windsor from automobile plants,” Galbraith explains.
They are active retirees who enjoy the outdoors, he says.
“These are people who are selling their houses for a couple hundred thousand dollars and they come here and buy one for $30,000 to $40,000. They have all their money in their house.”
Galbraith expects a good portion of them will be snowbirds and will purchase recreational vehicles for travel down south in the winter season. Already the company has sold the first 30 of the estimated 150 houses that have come up, and another 30 are expected to come to market by spring.
“We have seven or eight right now and we also have a number of miners who have sold to the mine, and then we lease them back to the miners.”
Galbraith says there are a lot of people retiring in three or four years who would like to invest in a house and at the same time generate some income. So as the miners finish their work term the homeowner can make some money.
“When you have a house that has three bedrooms, some with full finished basements, all underground services on a big lot and some of them have garages, they back onto green space, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” Galbraith says.
In 2006 Newmont is expected to close. Galbraith surmises this project will come to a close within the same year.
In the meantime Knight and town officials are quite happy to welcome the newcomers and are looking at ways for them to remain active. They are gearing up for the 50th anniversary in 2004 that will attract past and present residents back for celebrations. In addition, Knight has hired a marketing consultant to help brand the community as “extreme living,” an approach they hope will create another economic engine.
Some of those packages are geared to extreme winter activities to help keep the residents occupied. Packages may include a pick up from the airport by bus coach that would drive the visitors through the scenic parts of northern Superior.
From Manitouwadge to Chapleau “we are looking at setting up a chartered air service that will fly people from Thunder Bay to Sudbury and back. We have an agreement among the municipalities and we are now waiting for Niiganni Air to get his business plan approved because he will have some financial backing through his business plan.”
As part contributor to the forestry industry, Knight also would like to see more value-added products, but realizes so does everyone else.
“ We believe if there was a deep water harbour that could take product anywhere in the world, we would end up having value-added forest products,” Knight defends.
Michipicoten Harbour has an aggregate quarry that Superior Aggregates Ltd. would like to develop, however, there is opposition from environmentally minded residents.
“If Michipicoten Harbour becomes a reality we believe that it (value added) will become a reality,” Knight explains.
“Business will go where they get the cheapest shipping costs. Ships are about a fraction of the air or rail (cost).”
They are working closely with Elliot Lake to learn how to acquire, market and sell cottage lots in their neck of the woods.
“Nobody claims we are going to be 100 per cent successful, but we do have a plan and we are working the plan,” Knights says.