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Wake Up and Smell the Money, People

October 5, 2014 9:19 AM | Columns

By Ken Waddell, myWestman

NeepawaSome say there are no problems, only opportunities.

If that’s the case, then Neepawa has a huge opportunity because at first glance, the town sure has a major problem.

Currently there are about 1,000 newcomers from the Philippines living in the area, mostly in Neepawa. Some have been here for five years and have brought spouses and kids to Canada. They have rented apartments or houses and in many cases, bought houses. It’s perfectly obvious that there are many newcomers, mostly Filipinos everywhere.

Where the problem lies is that there aren’t many affordable housing situations left in the community. While there is still a big demand for housing, the ones that are on the market (and there are over 40 houses for sale in Neepawa) are not in a price range that newcomers can afford. The affordable price range is anything under $150,000.

The major problem is much deeper, there are at least 300 men, again mostly Filipino, working at HyLife who have not yet brought their wives and children here. These men are all tucked away, for now, in rooms, basement suites, apartments, sharing a house or bunking in with friends or relatives.

Let’s review the process. HyLife Foods needs about 1,050 employees. When they took over the plant from Springhill Farms, there were about 350 employees. As they expanded production from 2,000 hogs a day to 6,000 hogs a day, obviously more workers were needed, but not enough could be found locally. Workers came under the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program. They then applied for the Provincial Nominee (PN) program and that leads to the Permanent Resident (PR) program. There is about a 15 per cent turnover rate at HyLife due to retirements and PR workers moving on to other jobs, both in the community and elsewhere. Fifteen per cent is very low for that industry.

The big problem only appears to be a lack of housing but there is a bigger problem and that is a lack of recognition of the business opportunities. With 300 guys working here in Neepawa, but without their families here, guess what is happening. Understandably, they may well be sending a thousand bucks a month home to look after their families. That’s $300,000 per month. That’s $3.6 million a year that isn’t getting spent in Neepawa. Over ten years that’s $36 million in missed business opportunity. If those 300 guys, on average bring a wife and a kid to Neepawa, that’s 600 more people. That’s 300 more kids in the schools. Three hundred more kids means 10 more teachers, a couple more doctors, a whole lot more employees available for our over stretched work force. That means Neepawa expands to close to 5,000 people in the next 2 to 3 years.

We don’t have a population problem or a housing problem in Neepawa, we have a lack of vision problem.

And before anyone gets defensive and indignant and says, “Well, what has HyLife done about all this? It’s ‘their’ problem.” No it’s not! HyLife has invested $70 million in upgrades to the plant. God knows how much they paid for the place. Later, as reported in the Neepawa Banner on Jan. 11, 2013, Itochu, the Japanese food company, invested $52 million to buy a one third interest in HyLife.

On the housing side, HyLife has provided the services of community planner Peter Mah on a virtually unlimited basis to the community.

No, the problem is Neepawa’s problem. Local businesses, local investors and outside investment actively recruited by the Town of Neepawa and the business community have to step up to the plate.

If our new council moves ahead with developing the CN land or any other land, get behind them and at least lend your moral support. If someone comes up with a new housing project, lend your support. I don’t care if you don’t like townhouses or you don’t like the colour schemes or the shape or whatever. Give our current housing investors credit, they have risked their money, their time and their reputation to help this community seize opportunity for growth.

If any business person in this town can’t see that over the next 10 years we are losing out on $36 million in new business plus probably double that in spin-off activity, then maybe it’s time you sold your business to someone with more vision.

As crass as it sounds, it’s time to wake up and smell the money.