Gordon Pitts “The west starts at Wawa, and Thunder Bay is a western city”

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THUNDER BAY – Steve Demming, the CEO of the Community Economic Development Commission in Thunder Bay has been sharing a message with businesses in Thunder Bay. That message is that the future for much of our industrial capacity is tied to Western Canada.

Today at a luncheon hosted at the Valhalla Inn, sponsored by the CEDC and Investors Group, that message was hammered home to the audience by Globe and Mail Journalist Gordon Pitts.  Pitts is an award winning writer and business journalist. He is the 2009 recipient of Canada’s National Business Book Award for his fifth book, “Stampede: The Rise of the West and Canada’s New Power Elite”.

Pitts outlined his view that the current economic reality in Canada is that the West is the new economic power in our country. “In Thunder Bay, if Saskatchewan is not in your business plan, you’re dead,” stated Pitts.

“The west starts at Wawa, and Thunder Bay is a western city”, stated Pitts.

The author pointed out that “a bi-polar Canada is forming, and that banking is moving west”. Pitts noted that bankers follow the money. The Royal Bank of Canada started with its headquarters in Halifax, and then moved to Montreal and now Toronto. Pitts expects that within the decade at least one of the major banks will relocate to Calgary.

One of the points Pitts made directed at Northwestern Ontario businesses was that “We have to start looking at resources in a new way”. He states that “The Ring of Fire is a technilogical event”.

For Thunder Bay, Pitts says that in many ways what our community needs to do is start following the “New Voyageur Routes”. The author pointed out how those first routes were by canoe to Fort William, next it was by rail, and next by pipeline. Pitts stated how former Thunder Bay MP C. D. Howe understood that process and that in developing the Trans-Canada Pipeline that it changed the north-south travel dynamic to an east west.

During the free-trade era, the travel dynamic went more North-South, but that Pitts states is shifting back to an east-west dynamic. He predicts that the next major pipeline will be one from Western Canada heading west to feed energy supplies to the growing market in China.

Looking directly at Thunder Bay the advice Pitts offered was fairly basic, but extremely valid.

First, he suggests that Thunder Bay start looking at itself as a western city. Second, to become part of what Pitts called “the environmental supply chain”. In Alberta, the Oilsands are shifting from open pit mines to underground mines. The need for environmental products will be massive.

Pitts says that the images of the Oilsands presented in the media, are out-of-date. The entire project is continuing to evolve and much of the old strip mining is changing, and

He also suggested that Thunder Bay work itself into a “smart resources economy”. Part of that involves building on the work at Lakehead University and Confederation College. “Build great brains,” stated Pitts.

Pitts also says it is time we “Get beyond the history”. His comment is that while some think that Thunder Bay is “isolated” the truth is that we are not. “Windsor is isolated”.

While there is promise in the “Ring of Fire” Pitts stated, “The Ring of Fire is not a sure thing. The west is a 100% sure thing”.

What was encouraging in the room was that there were far more younger people in the audience than grey headed participants. That there are economic shifts happening in Thunder Bay, to paraphrase Pitts, is a “sure thing”. So too is the massive economic shift in Thunder Bay, our economy is changing, perhaps more as a result of young people generating opportunities and seeing possibilities than anything else.

Thunder Bay City Councillor Frank Pullia, also a CEDC board member, commented, “Gordon Pitts’ speech today was very timely and on target. Thunder Bay is very well positioned to serve the needs of a growing Western Canada market place. In fact, we have been successfully working on new business opportunities for a couple of years through the Oil Sands Consortium (now Thunder Bay Metal Fabricators Association) which has allowed the companies to retain their skilled trades and jobs in the city”.

Pitts explained how these opportunities will continue growing, and Pullia noted that “You could feel the excitement in the city’s business community”.

For more information, visit www.thunderbaycedc.ca

The Thunder Bay Oil Sands Consortium

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