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Area strives to diversify economy (12/01)

The Municipality of Greenstone has existed for nearly a year now.

The Municipality of Greenstone has existed for nearly a year now. The communities involved in the amalgamation elected their first mayor and council in November of last year, and Greenstone officially came into being on January 1, 2001, incorporating Aroland First Nation, Beardmore, Caramat, Geraldton, Ginoogaming First Nation, Jellicoe, Longlac, Long Lake No.58, MacDiarmid, Nakina, Rocky Bay, Orient Bay and 40 kilometres of unorganized territory.

Greenstone Mayor Charles Primeau says being part of the larger municipal area will be an asset for two communities within Greenstone which have been seriously affected by recent layoffs at Longlac Wood Industries.

Four hundred and fifty workers were laid off from the plywood and waferboard production company on November 9, 2001.

"(The layoffs) will have a serious effect on the community," Primeau says. "Anywhere between 30 and 40 per cent of the workforce (in Longlac and Geraldton) are affected directly, and of course there are all the indirect effects as well - the restaurants, the grocery stores," and all types of retail.

"This would have been totally devastating, but since Longlac and Geraldton are part of Greenstone, we have a bigger pool to draw from, both for government money and for the tax base."

Although he says the shutdown is temporary, there is no indication from the company as to when operations will resume.

He says the communities of Greenstone are focusing on a long-term diversification strategy to avoid just the sort of problem Longlac and Geraldton are now facing.

"Each town had their own strategies; what we're trying to do is to mesh them together. We need to become more than a one-industry area. Right now 75 per cent of jobs are forestry-related."

Primeau sees great opportunities within the amalgamated area, both for industry and for tourism.

Primeau says Greenstone hopes to attract companies engaged in value-added production - makers of furniture or pre-fabricated homes, for example. He also says there is opportunity for tree nurseries to establish in the area.

He points out the Longlac-Geraldton area is the halfway point between Toronto and Winnipeg, making it a good location for companies serving both cities and points beyond.

Greenstone is also serviced by airports in Geraldton and Nakina. At the Greenstone Regional Airport in Geraldton "the Ministry of Natural resources is making a major investment to expand their regional fire base in Greenstone," building living quarters and a large support office for firefighters, Primeau says.

A long-term tourism development strategy is part of the economic diversification plan, says Primeau. Currently, hunting and fishing bring in several thousand tourists a year, but he would like to see those numbers increase.

"In Geraldton, we have a signature destination in the Mining Interpretive Centre and the Kenogamisis 18-hole golf course. That's our jewel in the crown, and there's probably room for four jewels, one in each of Greenstone's larger communities."