Saskatchewan the new boom province
By Saskatchewan Agriviision Corp.
Albertans are going to have to learn to share the limelight when it comes to economic booms, according to C.M. Williams, president of Saskatchewan Agrivision Corporation. This particular boom period has come as a result of world demand for the wealth of commodities that the prairie province boasts, including potash, uranium and agricultural commodities.
It Is No Small Matter
All would agree that Saskatchewan is on an economic roll, a roll that is affecting everyone in the province. The impact for most is favorable, and in some instances with remarkable financial rewards. If one were therefore to ask the question, "What would be the likeliest problem or limitation that could stall this success", what would be the response? A lack of investment, a lack of skilled labor, environmental regulations, or perhaps unwise public policies?
How many would identify the lack of a nimble and responsive transportation system as the issue that will injure all industry that depends on exporting? The prairie basin and particularly the rural areas on the prairies are slowly being throttled by a lack of rail service, and particularly of containers. Without timely access to containers, our value adding chains cannot expand.
This includes branded cereals, pulses and oilseeds, dressed pork, small manufacturing, pulp and paper, etc.
Interestingly, over the past decade, the transportation focus has moved from an export driven system to an import one. As such, the prairie basin has been the loser because we import relatively little in containers, but have so much tonnage to send back. Even though empty containers from Toronto and Chicago pass by our door, the shipping lines are loathe letting them stop here for stuffing with a back-haul. Getting them back to Asia quickly is more economic than delaying to load them here to send to many designations, often not on the main export routes.
The economic future of Saskatchewan depends, not on whether, but on "when" we solve the problem of effective exporting with containers. Time is not our friend either; industries falter as this province becomes the "black hole" in the continental transport system.
Seizing the Opportunity
Saskatchewan has stumbled into an economic boom period, not through our political maneuvering or brilliance in negotiations, but, as most recognize, because we have a wealth of commodities that the world needs and is willing to pay for. We may be able to ride this hobby-horse for sometime, though in the end unless we change our habits we will have depleted much of our resources and have missed a golden opportunity to develop a more integrated and sustainable economy.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conceive of extending our dominance in the potash industry to be a world wide fertilizer supplier; to evolve from a uranium provider to a nuclear power supplier; to move our forestry resources into building housing for international markets; and developing our capacity to produce grains and livestock into a world class food provider. It will take imagination, aggressiveness and a good dollop of intestinal fortitude. But if we don’t do it others will and are, based on our wealth of raw commodities and their entrepreneurial bents.
We have a new initiative called Enterprise Saskatchewan, which is the new government’s brave start, though only time will tell whether it will pick off the low hanging fruit to support the existing domestic businesses or it will strike off into the larger arena where expansion and new opportunities are to be found. Both are possibilities but with differing outcomes.
This province has a wide experience in fostering new initiatives, from a shoe factory to pulp mills. We trust that this time we can build on the current momentum rather than the struggling to start a machine that didn’t have the spark or direction.