Going North

City of Thompson

The city of Thompson, Manitoba serves as a hub for a large number of outlying communities within a three hundred mile radius. These primarily encompass First Nations and Northern Affairs communities along with some industrial settlements such as Snow Lake, Leaf Rapids, Lynn Lake, and Gillam. People come to Thompson from all over northern Manitoba for a variety of services, from retail and health to government and education.

Thompson, Manitoba is no one-trick pony; rather, it boasts a diverse variety of industries. Yes, mining is still a prominent economic engine that drives the town forward, but Mayor Tim Johnston and City Manager Gary Ceppetelli say that this city is expanding both in size and in scope.

In 2010, the city entered into an agreement with the province for the construction of the new University College of the North campus. This 90,000 square foot complex is being built alongside the newly completed Thompson Regional Community Centre. “It will be a signature facility in the centre of our community that will service Thompson and the surrounding region,” explains the Mayor.

The centre started a couple of years ago when an additional 15,000 square feet was transformed into a health and wellness hub, striving to provide a health and fitness mentality and culture for the city. “We constructed our main area and did a number of builds with new dressing rooms, electrical and mechanical systems and refurbished the entire complex. We have a two arena complex with a health and wellness area making it a much more well-rounded facility that caters to the community.” One of the largest components was a walking track around the perimeter of the main arena. The multipurpose recreational building appeals to young and old alike.

The city of Thompson has worked quite hard over the past few years to build a number of strategic partnerships. One of these is with the Northern Regional Health Authority. The intent is to maximize the space in the facility and to provide specific types of services. The NRHA contributed a fitness area – currently being constructed – as part of the facility. Service providers will be on site to run diabetes clinics and rehabilitation through the health and wellness areas. This multidimensional approach fits well into the mandate that the council has established for the facility.

Back in November of 2010, one of the city’s main employers, Vale (formerly Inco) announced a transition in the focus of its operations with the planned decommissioning of the refining and smelting components of its operation. It wanted to focus on and enhance the mining and milling component instead. Those two facilities were to be decommissioned by the end of this year, though it has yet to happen.

Where a lot of communities might take a reactive position because an industry has shut down, Thompson took the initiative and began working on a proactive plan for the future. As part of that process, Vale funded the city’s Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group (TEDWG). Its purpose was to establish directions and action plans for the community to diversify the local economy and reduce the reliance on Vale for regional employment.

Chaired by the city and funded by Vale, the group also involved a number of major stakeholders including Aboriginal organizations, chambers of commerce and school districts. The vision of the group was to change the vision of Thompson, “as a single industry community which was developed in 1956 when the ore body was established. But, over the years we have diversified, and the intent of the process was to diversify even more. The underlying theme was to become a regional service centre with a strong mining base.”

A number of action plans were developed, from housing to education and training. The committee, with all of the major stakeholders, put forth a proposal for a restorative justice facility and provided direction and guidelines for the plans. “It is a testament to the quality of relationships in the city, to be able to have these different players sit down at the table and agree to that. The action plans that were put together built upon the initial sustainable community plan and master parks plan that was put into place by council – prior to that announcement in November 2010.”

While Vale has been an important part of the economy, it is not the only economic engine. Huge strides have been made in the fields of education and healthcare, but also the development of Thompson’s cold weather testing component initiative.

Thompson’s subarctic climate means that although its summers are warm, they are short and its winters are long and brutally cold. If a vehicle can work in these punishing conditions, it can work almost anywhere on earth, and the city’s world class cold weather testing facilities put machinery and components through their paces for clients from around the world. Ford maintains one such extreme cold weather testing facility near the airport.

The Global Aerospace Centre for Icing and Environmental Research (GLACIER) is a jet engine testing facility and the most advanced in the world. Jet engine manufacturers will use the GLACIER site to test new engine designs before being put into planes. The initial focus of the facility’s testing will be on icing, hail and water testing and cold soak certification with further capabilities upon expansion.

“We really grew that component, and word of it expanded. That is when we got into the creation of jet engine facility testing. The winter conditions and patterns that we experienced were optimal for that industry.”

Another outcome of the TEDWG process was to identify that the city needs to grow, especially with respect to additional commercial land. Thompson has a unique arrangement with Vale and the province, which dates back to the initial agreement that established the community. For the city to expand its boundaries, approval was needed from Vale to annex the land. All the legal requirements have now gone through on the 85 acre Yale-Newman area. Presently, council is marketing its potential for economic opportunities.

The challenge now for Thompson is to change the mindset of external forces outside of its region. “As you get further south in Canada, and into some of the financial centres, Thompson is still thought of as a single industry town. We need to change that perception into one of a diversified economy which is that regional service centre for Northern Manitoba with a number of strong economic engines, of which mining is but one of them.”

The average age in Thompson is a young twenty-eight. This young, dynamic community also has the largest percentage of Aboriginal peoples of any city in Canada. The city maintains an excellent relationship with the Aboriginal communities in northern Manitoba, and this relationship has formed the basis for continued growth and development.

On June 21, 2009, the Thompson Aboriginal Accord was signed by the city and Aboriginal groups. “It is a document that we are very proud of,” says the Mayor. He says that it acknowledges the important contributions made by the Aboriginal community to the city. “It also sets out the principles by which we, as a community, will move forward. I truly believe that the accord has enabled us to do so many of the things that we have been able to do in collaboration with these organizations.”

Every year on National Aboriginal Day, a report goes to the community to discus successes of the previous year and what the objectives are for the coming year. Thompson has expanded from the original signatories to now include government related agencies, private industry and groups such as the Thompson Chamber, Vale and Manitoba Hydro.

The mayor feels that this has all been possible because of the previous experience with TEDWG. “It’s because of those relationships that were already well formulated. We had the ability to sit down immediately and start discussing what those action plans were concerning the diversification of the city and region.”

Moving forward, Thompson offers a unique glimpse of playing a proactive and collaborative role by establishing long term economic benefits for municipalities and aboriginal peoples. “I believe that the future is very bright for Thompson and North Manitoba as a region. We will be as strong as the communities in the north. We know that we reside in an area with a growing population.”

Thompson has a very positive future for investors. “When people look at Thompson they see a single industry city. By doing that, they really miss out on so many other things. We are growing, we are dynamic, and it’s an exciting time to be in Thompson and North Manitoba. If you look to the future of our province and Canada, the north will play a fundamental role and we are very strategically positioned to be on the leading edge of that.”

For more information about the City of Thompson, please visit http://www.thompson.ca/

November 19, 2017, 3:41 AM EST