Eyesafe 2020

POWERING UP IN MOOSE JAW

SEE YOUR FUTURE IN CANADA'S MOST NOTORIOUS CITY

BY BROOK THALGOTT

PHOTOS BY SHANE LUHNING

Moose Jaw. It’s one of those places known around the world because of its memorable name. Funny-sounding name aside, it’s also known for its colourful past tied to the bootleggers and baddies of yesteryear. Tourists flock to the city’s historic downtown to see the history and learn about some of those original entrepreneurs who took advantage of Moose Jaw’s unique, if shady, business benefits so many years ago. Fast forward a century and the Moose Jaw of today—while embracing its notorious past—is the place to grow a venture and build a life.

“In 2016, the city was named ninth in Canada’s “Best Places to Do Business” by Canadian Business and profitguide.com,” says Jim Dixon, the City of Moose Jaw’s manager of economic development. “Since then, we have done even more work to grow our ability to attract business to the area.”

The city’s access to highways, rail, utility infrastructure, skilled labour force and favourable taxation has attracted attention and investment. Moose Jaw, situated in the province’s agricultural heartland, has three-day trucking service to Montreal, Toronto, and the eastern seaboard, two-day service to Vancouver and Chicago and overnight service to Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Minneapolis. “Our location means goods get where they need to go, fast,” says Dixon.

Did you know Moose Jaw serves as the western anchor to the Moose Jaw-Regina Economic Corridor? One of the largest economic regions in the province, the Corridor accounts for 20 per cent of Saskatchewan’s GDP and 24 per cent of its population.

Shovel Ready

The city is home to major business-friendly infrastructure. The 700-acre Moose Jaw Agri-Food Industrial Park, located in the southeast corner of the city, has land ready to go—fully serviced and shovel ready. The Park was designed with food production and manufacturing in mind and is situated with railway and highway access for goods to move across the country and for export to the United States. “Our goal is to create a processing cluster in the park,” says Dixon. “Land parcels can be sized for all business needs, and there is excellent access to water and wastewater which is perfect for wet pea processing plants.”

The Agri-Food Industrial Park is also home to a brand-new energy infrastructure project. In July 2021, construction officially kicked off on SaskPower’s Great Plains Power Station. The $780 million project will see the creation of a 360-megawatt natural gas power station, generating enough to power 360-thousand homes. “Great Plains Power Station is an important part of SaskPower’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while continuing to provide reliable, cost-effective power to our customers,” said Mike Marsh, SaskPower president and CEO in July. “This state-of-the-art, combined-cycle natural gas-fired facility will produce lower emitting, baseload power that will be available 24/7 and enable us to incorporate more intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar.” Construction of the facility is expected to be complete in 2024, creating up to 500 jobs during the build and 25 permanent jobs when the plant is fully commissioned.

The Grayson Business Park in the city’s northeast offers serviced commercially zoned properties that are build-ready with utility services. The park has serviced lots now with 24 acres available for future development. “Grayson Business Park is just off the TransCanada Highway, and is already home to several businesses, ”says Dixon.

Room to Grow

For 11 years, a former beef packing plant in the city’s northwest laid idle. In July 2021, the same month that construction began on the new power project, a company with strong ties to the city made a move to expand its footprint locally. B.C.-based Donald’s Fine Foods has had a presence in Moose Jaw for several years operating Thunder Creek Pork—a pork processing facility which is also a major employer for the area. The company applied for a $12.7 million building permit to turn the shuttered beef plant into another pork facility. The permit was also a major shot in the arm for the local economy. “The application raised Moose Jaw’s building permit values for the first eight months of 2021 to $55.64 million,” says Dixon. “We’re on track for a record year in in permit values.” When work is complete on the retrofitting and the plant is online, it is expected to create another 100 jobs for the city.

The city also welcomed AgroCorp Processing in 2013. The Singapore-based company saw the potential that Saskatchewan and Moose Jaw offered in pulses and opened a facility in 2013. Four years later, AgroCorp moved its headquarters to Moose Jaw from Vancouver. “With Donald’s Fine Foods’ recent investments and our Agri-Food Industrial Park, plus AgroCorp, Viterra, Simpson Seeds and Parrish & Heimbecker facilities here, our goal is to create an agricultural centre of excellence,” says Dixon. “Our location adjacent to agricultural producers plus transportation and infrastructure makes Moose Jaw the perfect place for setting up value-added processing for the commodities grown right here.” 

Incentives to Consider

Beyond the city’s location, recent investments, entrepreneurs and amenities, Moose Jaw is also offering tax incentives to encourage businesses to consider. Among them are the City Commercial and Industrial Tax Phase-In and the City Job Creation Incentive. The first offers a five-year property tax phase-in available to new builds or expansions, and the exemption is applied to the increased assessed value resulting from construction. The second is a five-year property tax phase-in for job creation in eligible sectors.

Blazing Sun and Hot Water

Another long-term economic engine, Gibson Energy Inc. has its eyes on how it can embrace the renewable energy market, and its Moose Jaw energy facility has a role to play in that goal. In a May 2021 earnings call focused on the company’s first quarter results, Gibson president and CEO Steve Spaulding mentioned the solar and geothermal energy possibilities Moose Jaw offers. “We’re definitely going to look at solar opportunities,” Spaulding added. “But potentially, there at Moose Jaw, there might be a geothermal opportunity that may be better than a solar opportunity for us.” In addition to these early explorations, the company has also recently invested $20 million at its Moose Jaw plant to reduce GHG emissions.

The city also announced in October that it will seek grant funding to drill a geothermal test well. Moose Jaw City Council approved a recommendation that the city administration should apply for funding from Natural Resources Canada to explore the geothermal energy potential at the Agri-Food Industrial Park. “The City of Moose Jaw has an opportunity to further harness our geothermal resources to create economic development opportunities,” said Jim Puffalt, City Manager on October 14. “The SREPs Program Capacity Building Stream of the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) Infrastructure Program would provide 100 per cent of the funds required up to $5,000,000 to move the Geothermal Project to the next level, including the digging of a test well and feasibility studies into full-scale industrial use. This is a tremendous green initiative that fits seamlessly within our Strategic Plan.”

Call Moose Jaw Home

Not only is the city offering a place to start or grow a business, it’s also a place to find “home” literally and figuratively. “The median single detached home price in Moose Jaw was $201,750, compared to Regina at $316,000 in the first quarter of 2021,” says Dixon. Compare that to $511,000 in Calgary, an eyewatering $1,238,000 in Toronto, and a heartburn-inducing $1,807,100 in Vancouver, according to the latest information from the Canadian Real Estate Association.

Beyond its affordable homes, Moose Jaw also has an extensive fibre-to-the-premises network—perfect for remote workers and businesses doing work with people in the city and around the world. "In fact, Moose Jaw is a leader in the fibre community," says Dixon.

The city is also vibrant and cosmopolitan—impressive for a place its size. There are arts, cultural and sporting events on offer year-round, a bustling, historic downtown with shopping, restaurants and nightlife, a multitude of parks, rinks and recreational facilities, several museums, a recently expanded municipal airport, a new hospital, public bus transit, one of the province’s four Saskatchewan Polytechnic campuses, and numerous schools for children from pre-K through high school. “Whether you’re just starting out, looking for your next move, or settling into retirement, Moose Jaw has everything you need for a great life,” says Dixon. “Plus, it takes just fifteen minutes to get anywhere in the city. You can say goodbye to the rat race and still have everything you need close by.”

People Who Know

Joel Pinel, born and raised in Moose Jaw, decided to find his fortune in his hometown. Pinel is a co-founder of WOW Factor Media and co-founder and CEO at Vize Labs. He got his start with WOW Factor, a full-service marketing firm based in Moose Jaw and working with clients across the country. Today, he’s building another tech enterprise—Vize Labs—a company using artificial intelligence to analyze company communications to better inform business strategy. He’s gotten the attention of Silicon Valley, and he’s proud to do it all from Moose Jaw.

“I spent a few years in Edmonton because well, everybody went to Alberta at that time,” laughs Pinel. “I realized that I could get a lot more done in Moose Jaw and I came home in 2009.” Pinel established WOW Factor Media, learning quickly that Moose Jaw had a lot to offer in terms of location, cost of doing business, and saving time. “Being here, we’re close enough to Regina and Saskatoon to easily meet with clients. You can pay less in expenses such as rent. Plus, it’s just easier to get stuff done. I can get to the bank here in 10 minutes. In Edmonton, it’s an hour, easy. The time savings alone are incredible.”

Today, he sees the benefits Moose Jaw offers for business. Even the funny name is part of the city’s unique selling proposition. “Everyone knows Moose Jaw,” he says. “It’s a talking point. It doesn’t matter that we’re here. Many sectors, like tech, can do business anywhere, and the pandemic has shown that even more. You can do business all over the world from here easily.” 

Pinel also notes the supportive community of entrepreneurs that call Moose Jaw home. “The local Chamber of Commerce is great. They do so much for the businesses here,” says Pinel. “The local businesses support one another. We want everyone to succeed. We’re not competitive with each other. It’s about how we build each other up. He also loves the simplicity of life in Moose Jaw. “My favourite thing about Moose Jaw is that it’s a great place to live. It’s a terrific place to do business, but it’s also a wonderful place to raise a family and enjoy life.” 

Jessica McNaughton, CEO at tech startup MemoryKPR, echoes Pinel’s sentiments. She, like Pinel, headed for Alberta to build her career. It was a chance meeting with former Premier Brad Wall that encouraged McNaughton that it was time to head back to her hometown. “I met Premier Wall at a Calgary Top 40 Under 40 event where I was receiving an award. He wanted to know how someone like me could be convinced to move home, and it got me thinking,” she says. “The stars aligned 12 years ago, and I was offered a job that I could do from Alberta or Saskatchewan, so I decided to head home.” 

McNaughton moved back to Moose Jaw with her children and hasn’t looked back since. In 2020, she joined the city’s entrepreneurial community with her company memoryKPR, a digital storytelling platform and application. Her company is currently based in the Conexus Cultivator tech incubator in Regina, but McNaughton is fully engaged in Moose Jaw’s business community. “The city is full of talent and role models for entrepreneurs. Plus, the Sask Polytech campus is there turning out skilled graduates ready to work.” 

She also values the city’s slower pace and ease of living, while still being able embrace the growing economic opportunities. “I can leave work and be at my daughter’s volleyball game in minutes. My home backs a beautiful marsh and I can be at an airport in 45 minutes. The cost of living, quality of life and entrepreneurial spirit make it a fantastic place to call home and do business,” says McNaughton. “All the ingredients are here to make it happen for a growing venture, a budding entrepreneur or people building careers here—or remotely. Moose Jaw has it all.”