Directwest May 2020
Money Profiles

Investing for Today and Tomorrow: Athabasca Basin Development is Building the Future

Hatchet Lake, one of ABD's shareholder communities
Hatchet Lake, one of ABD's shareholder communities.
Geoff Gay, Athabasca Basin Development CEO

Geoff Gay, Athabasca Basin Development CEO.

For nearly 20 years, Athabasca Basin Development (ABD) has been building wealth for the future for seven communities in Saskatchewan’s Athabasca region. Since its inception, ABD has made strategic investments to maximize returns for its shareholder communities, partnering with ventures to create creating meaningful jobs and wealth in the north. “We got our start investing in companies that service the mining industry in 2002, as the Athabasca region is home to the world’s richest uranium deposits,” says Geoff Gay, ABD’s CEO. “However, as the years have passed, we have diversified our investment portfolio and expanded outside mining to ensure our company is resilient long-term.”

The First Foray

Arctic Beverages, Winnipeg

Arctic Beverages, Winnipeg

In 2014, ABD had ownership in eight companies that all serviced the mining industry. ABD was looking for opportunities to diversify to ensure it could stay protected from the inevitable downturns that occur in resources. A possible investment turned up next door in Manitoba with a company that had good fundamentals but some issues. “We learned about Arctic Beverages, a Pepsi franchisee and food distribution company based in Winnipeg,” says Gay. “The company had a large presence throughout Northern Manitoba, and reach in Northern Saskatchewan, Northwestern Ontario and Nunavut.” A court-ordered sale of the company was coming, and ABD saw an opportunity they could not pass up. ABD partnered with two other companies: Prince Albert Development Corporation in Prince Albert and Paskwayak Business Development in Manitoba and made their proposal. After careful due diligence by Pepsi, ABD had their first investment outside mining in just three weeks. “It was a quick but very thorough process, and it has been a great investment for us,” says Gay. “The Arctic Beverages management team is very entrepreneurial and is always looking for new products and acquisitions to make the company even stronger.”

Home & Leisure

Tru-North RV, Auto and Marine, Prince Albert

Tru-North RV, Auto and Marine, Prince Albert

After the success with Arctic Beverages, ABD’s next move outside mining came just a year later. In 2015, Tru-North RV, Auto and Marine in Prince Albert became available for investment. The company had solid fundamentals and was moving into a new market—manufactured homes. “The RV and manufactured home industries have less exposure to resource downturns which appealed to us,” says Gay. “And, Tru-North also has a reputation for excellent customer service which is great for the bottom line.”

A New Partner

Two years after the Tru-North acquisition, another opportunity appeared—in financial services. A long-time rural insurance brokerage chain was available for purchase. “Long Lake Insurance had long-standing locations in several communities in rural Saskatchewan,” says Gay. “PIC Investment Group Inc. in Saskatoon invited us to partner in this venture.” ABD and PIC found they had similar values in company management and investing, and the two organizations decided to work together on the acquisition. Since then, Long Lake Insurance has acquired two more insurance brokerages and is always looking for its next opportunity for growth.

Breaking New Ground

5Buds Cannabis, Warman

5Buds Cannabis, Warman

In 2018, ABD would make its boldest move yet. Cannabis was on the road to legalization, and a new industry was about to be born. “Cannabis presented us with a new, yet resilient investment with good growth over time,” says Gay. “We found three First Nations partners also interested in investing in this brand-new industry. Our talented staff did the homework needed, and we formed a team with retail experts to launch our own retail cannabis brand.” The newly formed entity applied for cannabis licenses in the lottery offered by the Government of Saskatchewan and won three. With that, 5Buds Cannabis came to life. The premium cannabis retailer has locations in North Battleford, Warman, and Yorkton, as well as an online store. 5Buds is positioned for growth, as provincial cannabis regulations have moved to an open-market system. “Today, we’re ready to work with any communities with a population over 2,500 and an interest in licensing a cannabis retailer,” says Gay.

The Payback

ABD is also committed to the seven Athabasca-based shareholder communities and their success. Each community has received distributions from ABD investments every year for the last 14 years—distributions that have never decreased. “We maintain consistent financial dividends to our community owners,” says Gay. “In turn, the communities use the distributions as they see fit. And, they also build equity as we re-invest into our companies and acquire new ventures.”

Athabasca Student Dinner, December 2019. Photo provided by ABD

Athabasca Student Dinner, December 2019.

ABD also gives back to the communities who have ownership in the company. Five years ago, ABD worked with Sasktel to bring cellular phone towers to northern communities such as Wollaston Lake, Fond Du Lac, Black Lake and Stony Rapids. The company also hosts an annual Christmas dinner in Prince Albert for Athabasca region students attending school away from their home communities. And, at last year’s dinner, every student from the region studying away received a flight home for the holidays, courtesy of Transwest Air. As well, ABD is committed to showing investors what the North can offer. ABD has sponsored several northern tours bringing business leaders from southern Saskatchewan to the Athabasca region, showing them first-hand the unique possibilities available, not to mention the spectacular scenery and the remarkable people who call it home.

On the Lookout

There are always opportunities to examine for ABD, no matter the sector. “We’re proud of the reputation we have built as a good business partner,” says Gay. “And, we’re always open to inquiries about what we can offer to entrepreneurs looking for investment.” It all starts with a phone call to ABD. If your company is looking for investment or to sell, consider ABD as a strategic partner with its outstanding track record, committed management, sound decision-making, community giving, and vibrant vision for the future.

To learn more about Athabasca Basin Development, visit athabascabasin.ca.

Athabasca Basin Development
Wahpeton Indian Reserve
Prince Albert
306.763.5636

325-2555 Grasswood Road E
Corman Park
306.384.0377