Thoughts on Saskatchewan’s New Economic Drivers: Tina Beaudry-Mellor, EDR and Alex Fallon, SREDA

Photos provided by EDR and Tourism Saskatoon - Curtis Matwishyn Photography.
Photos provided by EDR and Tourism Saskatoon - Curtis Matwishyn Photography.

We caught up with Tina Beaudry-Mellor, the former provincial cabinet minister and now Chief Economic Growth Officer at Economic Development Regina (EDR) and Alex Fallon, president and CEO at Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority (SREDA) to talk about Saskatchewan’s new economic drivers.

Tina Beaudry-Mellor, Economic Development Regina

Tina Beaudry-Mellor, EDR

Tina Beaudry-Mellor, EDR

Beaudry-Mellor had much to say about new economic drivers, especially the intersection of tech, agriculture, energy and sustainability. “The tech space has incredible potential because of how it affects the entire supply chain,” she says. She points to the impact tech is having on agriculture alone, touching everything from transportation to crop development, seeding to spraying—not to mention the volume of data being collected to improve production. “The development of sensor technology is revolutionizing agronomy, and it’s also changing related sectors like water management,” she says. “Then, there are the opportunities in precision agriculture, and the application of big data in everything from mapping fields to managing assets and insurance.” She also sees the ‘non-tech’ value of new agriculture, coming from the explosive growth of plant protein and the potential of ag waste, to become biomass energy. “Plus, this efficient use of production and build processes is more sustainable, not just from the perspective of environmental sustainability, but also supply security and financial sustainability.”

Counting Blessings

Beaudry-Mellor sees Regina, and the province, as well-positioned to harness the mountain of economic opportunity in front of us. “We have the natural assets required and the ecosystem is in place. We have logistical advantages like the Regina Bypass, two railways, the Global Transportation Hub and Chuka Creek Business Park,” she says. “We have venture capital growing with organizations like Farm Credit Canada and Conexus Credit Union, major business anchors such as our agricultural implement manufacturers and dealers and food processors, and platforms to the world like Agribition and Canada’s Farm Show. We have a tech incubator, two post-secondary institutions with a pipeline of talented students, and a young population. Our cluster of resources and talent is emerging quickly.”

Reaching Higher

Beaudry-Mellor also recognizes the importance of aspiration as we look to embrace the opportunities coming from new sectors. “We shouldn’t think that we’re ‘just from Saskatchewan’ anymore. We can compete globally and it’s time to show what we can do and what we offer.” She also points to Regina’s size as an advantage when it comes to collaboration and economic attraction. “We really do know everyone in the community, and that’s an incredible strength. We can bring together leaders across sectors and work together on our strategy. Prospects are shocked when they see how easy it is to meet with the CEOs and leaders here.”

Building Up

Regina and Saskatchewan still have work to do to fully realize the burgeoning opportunities presenting themselves. “We need to attract more money, and we need more anchors in the tech sector. We’re certainly seeing success with Vendasta, Coconut and SalonScale, and we’re really good at startups and early-stage tech. What we want is one or two more Vendastas to spur more scaling,” says Beaudry-Mellor. “And we need to fight off other jurisdictions eager to poach our business successes. We’re working on how we can keep what we have and get more of what we want.”

Rowing Together

Beaudry-Mellor has a lot of hope for what is to come in the next decade. She sees vital partnerships growing with a coordinated, shared vision that sees all the possibilities, coupled with access to what the global marketplace wants. “We’ve got a fully integrated supply chain full of what the world needs. You would be hard pressed to find a better tech-enabled and resilient food, fuel and fertilizer ecosystem anywhere else.”

Alex Fallon, Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority

Alex Fallon, SREDA

Alex Fallon, SREDA

Fallon has a word he proudly invented to describe what we’re seeing in Saskatchewan when it comes to the new economy. The word is techmodity—a noun that means the application of technology to the commodities and natural resources sector to drive innovation and productivity. “We’re watching how tech is changing Saskatchewan’s traditional sectors—agriculture, mining, energy—and a lot of disruptors in technology are being developed here,” says Fallon. “It’s the merger of commodities with technology in ways we have never seen before.”

Come On Over

SREDA is actively embracing the idea of techmodity, and championing Saskatoon and Saskatchewan as the place to explore and develop big ideas that fit with our strengths. The organization has created the HARVEST Agriculture Technology Program to attract the best and brightest in agriculture to visit Saskatoon. Applications from the world over are collected, and the winners are brought to Saskatoon to network, see what the city has to offer, and showcase their company to the Saskatchewan agriculture industry. The program has attracted applications from 26 countries, with many entrants never having heard of or visited Saskatchewan despite its often-natural fit as a place for their company to do business. “Our 2017 winner, PBD Biotech, established Canadian headquarters in Saskatoon and has since gone onto receive NRC IRAP funding,” says Fallon. “When companies like PBD Biotech hear about Saskatchewan, they want to know more. And when they visit, they are wowed and want to be here.”

Let’s Do Business

Fallon notes the difficulties that come with wooing new or expanding businesses—especially when it comes to locations, utilities and transportation. While getting attention from new economy companies is step one, step two is having the right mix of resources and amenities to want to do business. “We have launched Project Ribbon, which is in its final phase before we head into market,” says Fallon. “Now, when businesses are interested in Saskatoon, we can point to specific locations for development, can provide detailed estimated costs for things like utilities, and provide better information on the timescales and steps to service these sites. It’s all about providing companies with more information and certainty to support their business cases.”

Do it Here

Like Beaudry-Mellor, Fallon sees the mix of natural resources, skilled labour, and a burgeoning innovation and tech cluster as the basic ingredients we offer as the new economy presents its many opportunities. “We’re getting better at showing the world what we have, and we offer a quality of life that many other places can’t,” he says. “Plus, we have learned that big ideas and great minds can work anywhere. If COVID has taught us anything, it is that you can create opportunities anywhere in the world, and we know that Saskatchewan is a great place to do it from.”