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IW Business Bulletin – January 20, 2023

PM visits Vital Metals. David Stobbe / Stobbe Photo

PM visits Vital Metals to boost critical minerals industry

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Saskatoon-based Vital Metals’ rare earths processing facility on Jan. 16. Vital Metals is Canada’s first rare earths producer, processing ore from the company’s Nechalacho mine in the Northwest Territories.

“People are realizing that this extraordinary transformation toward more electric vehicles, more advanced high-tech solutions in everything we do, requires more access to advanced materials and rare earth elements,” Mr. Trudeau said.“That’s why the world is looking to Canada, because Canada has incredible amounts of critical minerals and rare earth elements that the world needs. People want to see these are done… in partnership and respect with Indigenous people.”

The visit comes on the heels of the federal government’s recent $5 million investment into funding for processing and production at the Vital Metals facility and the December 2022 release of Canada’s first Critical Minerals Strategy.

“Canadian rare earths are critical for powering Canada’s transition to the green and digital economy for our own industry, our friends and our allies,” said John Dorward, managing director at Vital. “We are engaging with our stakeholders about plans to expand mining operations and value-added processing from 500 tonnes per year of NdPr (magnetic rare earths) to potentially 4,000 tonnes to meet ever-growing demand.”

The $55 million plant is the first of its kind in Canada, processing rare earth ore from Vital’s Nechalacho Mine in the Northwest Territories for sale to European, Canadian and American separation facilities. Those separation facilities then handle the final separation into individual rare earth elements to supply manufacturers around the world.

Airlines “in and out” in Saskatchewan

As of Jan. 16, Air Canada will no longer fly between Calgary and Regina or Saskatoon, much to the dismay of the provincial government and local business groups like Economic Development Regina and the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce.

WestJet has announced it will add service between the cities, adding three flights daily between Calgary and Saskatoon, and one new daily flight between Calgary and Regina starting Feb.16. Flair Airlines also previously announced that it will begin daily direct service from Calgary to Saskatoon in May.

As for sun destinations, this week Sunwing also officially cancelled all remaining winter flights from Regina, and half of all remaining flights departing from Saskatoon.

The “turbulence” in airline service to and from the province has led Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce to ask Canada’s Competition Bureau “to examine Air Canada’s decision to terminate air service from Saskatoon to Calgary’s regional hub, and the implications for travellers who now face less choice and higher costs because competition has been harmed.”

“Air Canada has not adequately explained its ‘business decision’ to disregard strong and growing demand and eliminate a route that has been consistently profitable for over 30 years,” said Jason Aebig, CEO of the Saskatoon Chamber. “If Air Canada is unwilling to explain its decision to its customers and stakeholders, it can explain its decision to its regulators.”

Golden Opportunities invests in Mega Group

Saskatoon-based Golden Opportunities Fund announced Jan. 17 that it has invested in Mega Retail Consolidation LP through its operating partner Mega Group Inc. (“Mega Group”) and its wholly owned subsidiary Mega Investment & Development Corporation.

Mega Group, a retail home goods and furniture buying group, was founded in Saskatchewan in 1965. The company facilitates over $2.5 billion in annual retail sales to over 700-member retailer locations, and represents over 400 approved vendors in appliances, bedding, consumer electronics, furniture and floor coverings.

“We are very excited to be the financial partner of choice for an organization that has been providing leading edge services to local retailers in communities from coast to coast with everyday goods and products that affect families for the past nearly six decades,” said Grant Kook, president and CEO at Golden Opportunities.

The deal will allow Mega Retail Consolidation LP to “provide succession and exit opportunities for hundreds of independently owned retail locations already utilizing Mega Group’s services ranging from purchasing power, financial reporting, e-commerce and sales support.”

“Our member retailers, similar to businesses across all sectors, have been seeking succession options. Given our deep understanding of their business through the multitude of services that we offer them, it is a natural step in the evolution of their business that Mega, as a trusted partner, can now provide a succession solution with the aid of Golden, our financial partner,” said Chris West, Mega Group’s president and CEO.

Kitsaki buys ownership stake in IT firm PLATO

Kitsaki Management Limited Partnership (Kitsaki) announced Jan. 17 that it has made an investment into Canada’s PLATO, a software testing and technology services provider. The investment makes PLATO majority Indigenous-owned and controlled, and the only Indigenous software testing and technology services provider in Canada.

“Investing in PLATO is in line with Kitsaki’s strategic goals to diversify our portfolio with multi-sector investment in long-term, sustainable businesses that grow us beyond our region,” said Ron Hyggen, CEO of Kitsaki. “We knew right away that PLATO presented a unique opportunity, and that our values aligned. They have a real history of success when it comes to creating opportunities for Indigenous people in a growing market that allows staff to work remotely on projects .”

PLATO has trained more than 270 Indigenous software testers since 2016 with its “train-and-employ” model that includes five months in the classroom, a three-month internship, and a guaranteed full-time job when completed.

“Ron and the Kitsaki team do what they do for all the right reasons,” says Keith McIntosh, PLATO’s CEO and founder. “They are dedicated to growing capacity and opportunity for Indigenous communities, and we’re looking forward to working with them to do so.”

Kitsaki leadership sees PLATO as an investment to diversify its portfolio and while generating more employment options for people in more remote regions, like northern Saskatchewan. A training school will be also created in Prince Albert, training 15-20 students per year that have employment opportunities with PLATO.

“PLATO’s model is accessible, relevant and has already inspired many Indigenous youth and young adults to pursue tech careers,” saidHyggen. “We know these opportunities will have a real impact on our community and neighbours, while also contributing to a more inclusive tech sector overall.”

PLATO offers software testing services including test automation, functional testing, performance testing, test advisory, ERP testing, accessibility testing, content migration, and content quality assurance.

Zellers making a return across Canada

Hudson’s Bay made it official on Jan. 18, announcing that the shuttered-but-beloved Canadian retail brand Zellers is making a comeback in 2023.

The company will create 25 brick-and-mortar locations in existing Hudson’s Bay stores throughout Canada and online at

Saskatchewan will see one location in Saskatoon at the Midtown Plaza Bay store. Locations will be 8,000 to 10,000 square feet, and feature “a thoughtful selection of design-led products across home decor, toys, baby, apparel and pets, housed within Zellers’ signature red and white that will guide customers along in their retail journey.”

Vendasta names new CFO

Vendasta announced Jan. 17 that Brian Shelton will join the company as its next chief financial officer.

“I’m excited to join Vendasta at this point in the company’s history,” said Shelton. “I’ve been watching the company’s growth for most of its 15 years, and the plans we will be executing over the next few years are going to be incredibly dynamic. Vendasta has a really strong team and I’m honored to be part of it.”

Shelton comes to Vendasta from Gainsight in San Francisco, where he was the company’s CFO. Shelton also worked for RealPage, a real estate software and data analytics firm in Dallas, Texas.

“Brian knows our industry and our space exceptionally well, and he’s going to be an immediate asset to Vendasta,” said Vendasta CEO Brendan King. “He brings incredible experience in the software space and a proven track record as Vendasta manages its growth and profitability in the coming years.”

SREDA names interim CEO

SREDA announced Jan. 16 that Erin Lawson will helm the organization as interim CEO while a search is conducted for SREDA’s next permanent CEO. Alex Fallon, the previous CEO, departed the role this month.

Lawson has been with SREDA for seven years, mostly recently as its chief marketing officer.

“Erin is talented, experienced and ready to lead SREDA through this period. The Board is very pleased to have her in this role,” said Cam Broten, Chair of the SREDA Board of Directors.

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