Economy

"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce

 

A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY
- = Sustainable Economy Initiatives = -

Greenstone Community Futures Development Corporation

Greenstone is a non-profit community development corporation, funded by the Canadian federal government, which works to strengthen and diversify the economy of a rural region of northwest Manitoba which is dominated by a single industry economy.

Background

Greenstone is an area of northwest Manitoba that sits in the Precambrian Shield, 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg, characterized by rocks, lakes, swamps, muskeg, forest, and an abundance of wildlife. In winter, snow lies on the ground from November to May, and the temperature can fall to –30 to - 40C in January and February. In summer, it is a pleasant 17C. Manitoba is twice the size of Great Britain, and larger than any European nation, with a population of just over 1 million. The area has traditionally been inhabited by the Opaskwayak Cree people. The first white settlers arrived in the early 20th century to pursue fur-trapping and fishing, with mineral prospecting on the side. In summer they would travel by canoe, and in winter by dogsled, since there were no roads.

In 1915, prospectors found a huge body of copper-zinc which led to the 1930 opening of the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company (HBM&S). The town of Flin Flon was incorporated in 1933, and today, the mine employs 1700 people - 30% of the town’s jobs. After smelting, the high grade anode copper is shipped to Montreal. As a single industry town, Flin Flon’s future is almost totally dependent on the global commodity price of copper and zinc. Between 1971 and 1996, Flin Flon lost 2,483 people (27% of its residents). With few new mining jobs because of technology investments, many young people leave town; the youth unemployment rate in 1996 was 14.2%. In 1997, the mine’s owners threatened to pull out by 2004 unless they obtained a 15 year no-strike agreement. This was eventually forthcoming, and a development plan lasting until 2027 was agreed to, with the promise of employment stability guaranteed until 2017 and new mine to be opened. This has brought a new confidence to the community, but the underlying fragility of the economy and the lack of jobs for young people remains unchanged. Transportation to and from the region is also very costly.

Aims and Objectives

The Greenstone Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC) was established in 1986 as a non-profit corporation under Canada’s Community Futures program, to encourage the economic diversification of the 1200 sq km area which includes Flin Flon and three smaller communities - Snow Lake (pop’n 1,400), Cranberry Portage (723) and Sherridon (95). Greenstone’s goal is to assist the communities to maintain and diversify their economic base, and promote community development.

Activities

Greenstone’s primary activity involves providing self-employment training and technical and training assistance for small businesses; cooperating with the local community college to offer business development seminars; and administering three loan funds – a General Fund, a Youth Fund and a Disability Fund. They also assist the region to carry out long-term community economic strategic planning. In 1999, the yearly community planning session identified the region’s long-term goals as increasing the tourism potential in summer (canoeing, hiking, wilderness excursions) and winter (dog-sledding, cross-country skiing, northern lights); encouraging more local business start-ups; starting a small business training facility; encouraging foreign students to come and learn English as a Foreign Language; attracting foreign investment; and building more local education and training capacity. Greenstone is pursuing a widespread tourism development initiative called the Grass River Corridor Project, and during 1999, they developed a book on Canoeing the Precambrian Edge, showing 38 canoe route maps with ecological and ecotourism information, and assisted in the completion of a Northern Manitoba Travel Map, with information on canoe routes, snowmobile trails and parks. Greenstone also coordinated outdoor wilderness guide training for 14 people; hosted the first northern youth conference on entrepreneurship and technology; oversaw the expansion of a lakeside tourist trail project; and undertook a tour of China to recruit educational students and attract business investors.

Structure

Greenstone has three full-time and one part-time staff, and is governed by a 15-member volunteer board which meets monthly, circulating between the four communities. There is an annual joint meeting with other communities in Northern Manitoba, and many partnerships with local governments, colleges, schools and chambers of commerce.

Finance

Greenstone’s core annual funding of $200,000 comes from Canada’s Western Economic Diversification program. Greenstone also manages a $2 million loan fund, focused on high risk leaders, repayable to Western Economic Diversification, and a non-repayable $200,000 Youth Fund and $200,000 Disability Fund, which generate $20,000 in income.

Performance

Since 1986, Greenstone has provided $4 million in loans to 160 people (30% to women), and assisted in the development of many new businesses, including restaurants, wild rice farming, a campground, tourist lodges, a boat tour company, a 7-person beauty salon, a massage therapist, electrical and heavy duty mechanics, two computer specialist stores and a specialty wedding store. They have helped a paraplegic man to open an Internet Café, and another disabled man to start a greenhouse operation growing flowers, fruits and vegetables for local sale. 8- 10 loans have gone to native First Nations entrepreneurs, and a Youth Enterprise Centre has been opened in partnership with the province, the city and the local school district. In 1998-9, Greenstone serviced 660 inquiries, opened 172 client files, approved 28 loans and helped in the creation or maintenance of 54 jobs. Loans are only given when the local banks refuse (which is common), and the average delinquency rate is high, at 19.5%. The cost of job creation is $12,500 per job, which the federal government wants reduced to $6,900.

Future

In addition to the above activities, Greenstone is planning to establish a stronger partnership with the city of Flin Flon, to develop the prospects for internet-based communications and e-commerce, to encourage the establishment of a northern university in Manitoba, to secure the provision of local training for employees at the mine (instead of their having to travel away), to hold a tourism development conference and to establish an Economic Developers Association for Northern Manitoba. There are hopes to raise a community-financed, provincially guaranteed ‘Grow Bond’ to finance a water bottling plant, to expand a successful year-round underground greenhouse in an abandoned coppermine, raising medicinal herbs for export all over North America, and to set up local incubator malls in each of Greenstone’s four communities.

In a small community, volunteers play an enormous role. Flin Flon, with a population of just 6,570 residents, sustains a 28-person voluntary fire service, 15 distinct churches, 16 service clubs, 12 youth clubs, 22 organized sports programs, 9 arts and cultural organizations, 21 sports and recreational facilities, an almost volunteer 7-person municipal council, a Healthy Flin Flon committee, a Chamber of Commerce and a separate Core Business Association. Greenstone’s General manager herself sits on 15 Boards, so the threat of volunteer burnout is always present. Larger difficulties come from local complacency, a preference for complaining over taking the initiative, the leakage of $2 million a year out of the community through video lottery terminals, a slow, cumbersome process where loans require government approval, and a lack of community involvement by the local banks or the town’s main employer, the Hudson’s Bay Mining and Smelting Company.

1200 words

For further information contact :

Lois Burke, General Manager
Greenstone Community Futures Development Corporation
84 Church Street,
Flin Flon, Manitoba R8A 1L8, Canada

Phone: (204) 687-6967 Fax (204) 687-4456
Email: admin@greenstone.mb.ca


Written by Guy Dauncey for The Planning Exchange, Glasgow, Scotland.

guydauncey@earthfuture.com