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News conference highlights significant business opportunities

Investments could result in sizable job creation in Powell River

City of Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa proved the adage that the buck stops here. During a news conference, Saturday, October 18, lasting more than two hours, the mayor introduced six business people who could potentially invest tens of millions of dollars in Powell River if pending agreements are finalized.

Resplendent with his Yes to the Library button, Formosa’s first introduction was Rob Walker, president, AgriMarine Technology. Walker said its sister company, AgriMarine Industries Inc., recently purchased West Coast Fish Culture, the steelhead producer at Lois Lake.

Walker said his company started to talk to Formosa and others in Powell River and learned there were possible opportunities for technological advances in aquaculture here. He discovered there was a potential aquaculture location near the Catalyst Paper Corporation Powell River Division mill.

“It’s a great waterfront site,” he said. “It’s an awesome opportunity for us.

“The reason we are interested in the property down at the old mill site is it’s a terrific resource, there’s good well water and it’s right next to salt water. There’s a lot of land, there’s power down there and available infrastructure. City Transfer is right next to us so we can ship product to market. It really does have what we want as a company.”

Walker said his company believes it could build a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), which is a land-based, closed containment rearing system. It employs full water treatment and recycling technologies. A fish processing plant is another possibility.

Walker said negotiations with the city are still underway and there are quite a few steps involved before the prospect of breaking ground. He said the company’s plans are straightforward once the water resources are proven to be what the company requires. Walker favours coho salmon as the species to be reared if the facility is built, and steelhead is also a possibility. He forecast 30 to 50 jobs if the aquaculture facility is built and operating at the mill site.

Another business venture in the Catalyst neighbourhood announced at the news conference is a medical marijuana venture, slated for the mill’s former administration building.

Suzanne Wood, chief financial officer for SVT/THC Ltd., the proponent for the business, said the production of medical marijuana is a new industry. She said her company made forays into establishing an operation in other centres, but after having met with Powell River’s mayor and council, her company thought local politicians here had the foresight and ability to look ahead to an industry that is not well understood.

“Let’s face it, it’s controversial, but they knew that this is a multi-billion dollar industry that I believe is going to bring a benefit to the city.”

She said the renovation of the old mill office would be a $2.5- to $3-million project, with the prospect of local spinoffs.

“I made a commitment to the mayor and council that we will use local labour and local resources whenever possible,” Wood said.

She added her company has first right of refusal on other lands and locations in Powell River to which it would intend to expand.

“We are making a commitment for a long-term relationship with the city,” Wood said.

Once the mill office facility is in operation, she expects 30 to 50 full- and part-time jobs.

“We anticipate, in our first full year of operation, that we will be producing $15 to $17 million of product,” she said. “What that means is we will be consuming a considerable amount of soil, fertilizer and any other thing we have to buy. We have committed to buy anything that we can locally.”

She said medical marijuana production is a strictly regulated and legislated industry, which will be mandated by Health Canada regulations and a number of other authorities. The business is still waiting for its final permit from Health Canada.

“Once we receive that we are going to hit the ground running,” she said. “We intend to start as quickly as possible.”

Medical marijuana purchase will require a doctor’s prescription. Wood said that medical marijuana is no different than any other regulated, pharmaceutical drug. The University of British Columbia is a scientific partner in the venture.

In introducing the third venture, Formosa said that Sino Bright School received its licence from the province in August. This is an important stepping stone for the international school to build a senior secondary school in BC.

Quan Ouyang, executive director of Sino Bright School, said it was founded more than 10 years ago, to operate schools in China, teaching the British Columbia curriculum. This education assists Chinese students in attending college or university in Canada.

Since its inception, Sino Bright students have come to British Columbia for studies and School District 47 made connections to bring students here. Ouyang said as soon as his group came to Powell River, they fell in love with the city.

“It’s such a beautiful, peaceful city and all educators, right away, feel this is paradise for education.”

Ouyang said discussions with the city, school district and Vancouver Island University were fruitful and he believes all four organizations share the same vision. A sign of the acceptance of this city is the students that have come to Powell River don’t want to return to China, according to Ouyang.

“A few parents have come over with the students and they want to stay,” he said. “I think the bottom line is this community is very culturally friendly. They feel welcome.”

He said the students need a safe, comfortable place for their high school studies and this is the best place for them to stay.

Ouyang said Sino Bright wants to purchase land in Powell River to build the international school, which the mayor previously said would accommodate 400 students. The property is near Brooks Secondary School and its proximity would allow Sino Bright to dovetail with existing Brooks facilities.

Formosa said the land, owned by the city and the Tla’amin (Sliammon) Nation, is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). He said Scott Randolph, the city’s economic development manager, is getting in touch with the Agricultural Land Commission and there is precedent for locating schools on ALR lands.

Ouyang said that while the land matters are being settled, arrangements are being made to raise the capital to build the school.

In terms of the aviation industry, if plans come to fruition, the city will require a contingent of airplane smiths.

Upper Valley Aviation’s Ken Smith and Pacific Coastal Airlines’ Quentin Smith are hoping to occupy space at Powell River airport to carry out maintenance and refurbishing of aircraft.

Ken has a company located in Chilliwack. He told those attending the news conference that his company has specialized in the painting and interior finishing of airplanes and helicopters. It has been conducting mechanical work on airplanes and he wants to expand into refurbishing Dash 7 and 8 aircraft, which are turboprop-driven regional airliners. The building he proposes to build here is twice the size of his current facility in Chilliwack.

The city has offered the two companies 99-year leases for building facilities at the airport, which makes financing much simpler, because financial institutions are unwilling to advance construction funds for building on properties with short-term leases.

Ken said the cost of business in the Lower Mainland is “really high.” Operating costs in Powell River would be lower, which is significant in the aircraft industry, because maintenance is price-driven, so customers’ greatest allegiance is to lowest expenditure.

Ken employs 35 to 50 people, many of whom would migrate here. Quentin said if Pacific Coastal was to set up business in Powell River, initially, 15 people would move here. Both businesses already employ people from Powell River, or with Powell River connections, so there is enthusiasm in the ranks for the move.

Quentin said Pacific Coastal is looking at shrinking its footprint at Vancouver International Airport. He said aviation is very portable. His lease expires in 2019 so he is looking further afield. He has difficulty in recruiting workers from outside of the Lower Mainland because the cost of living in Vancouver is so high. That would not be the case here.

The move to Powell River would initially involve building a hangar facility that would become the airline’s overhaul / maintenance facility.

Quentin has purchased a home in Powell River and is in the process of moving from Vancouver, although he said the move is coincidental to the prospect of moving Pacific Coastal facilities to this community.

Formosa also mentioned good news for a local company. Under its agreement in principal with Catalyst, the city was able to negotiate a deal for a piece of real estate that City Transfer had leased.

Donna Stobbart, the new president of City Transfer, said that due to the extensive efforts by the city and this council, the business was able to conclude a worthwhile and productive agreement that will see the City Transfer marine terminal flourish.

“This agreement provides us with the ability to maximize the city’s port, thereby creating additional employment, improved and expanded services, all while lowering our carbon footprint,” Stobbart said.

City Transfer is building a business plan that will determine what the operation is going to look like on the waterfront.

“Most definitely, there will be jobs created,” Stobbart said.

The mayor then called Eagle Walz, president of Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society, and Councillor Russell Brewer, to speak about the purchase of the trees in Millennium Park from Island Timberlands. While the city owns the lands, Island Timberlands holds the timber rights. The city has agreed to pay $1.125 million to ensure the timber is never harvested.

Tla’amin Chief Clint Williams opened and closed the news conference and spoke eloquently about the relationships that have been forged between his first nation and the broader citizenry of the region.

Three major announcements at city council meeting

Community Forest trees will pay for Millennium Park preservation

City of Powell River Council is open for business. At council’s Thursday, October 16 meeting, Mayor Dave Formosa made three significant announcements designed to spur economic development and preserve local heritage.

These include an initiative to establish a 400-student international school, location of two potential aviation service facilities at Powell River airport, and preservation of the trees at Millennium Park.

In publicly releasing matters that had been discussed by council during in-camera sessions, Formosa first outlined plans by China-based Sino Bright School to build an educational facility on lands adjacent to Brooks Secondary School. Formosa said the City of Powell River, School District 47 and Vancouver Island University had entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Sino Bright School, which operates 10 to 14 schools in China, offering international education opportunities. Currently, there are about 50 grade 10 to 12 students from China studying at Oceanview Education Centre.

“We will be announcing very soon that [Sino Bright] will be making an offer on a piece of land owned by the City of Powell River and Sliammon First Nation, in behind Brooks, where they will be planning to build a 400-student school with a campus for specialty college courses,” Formosa announced.

Formosa said the provincial government granted a licence to Sino Bright for the project this past August. He added that the city, university and school district have worked diligently for a year and a half putting together this business transaction.

“The city has no financial interest,” Formosa said. “We will be accommodators working with the provincial government. The lands are ALR [Agricultural Land Reserve] so we want to see if we can help facilitate building the school and the college campus on the ALR lands.

“The offer still has to be accepted by the company.”

Formosa said Sino Bright has a campus that just opened in Vancouver’s Gastown and students go there for a month after coming to Canada. They would then come to Powell River for their schooling from grade 10 to 12.

It appears the Gastown campus has an orientation role for the incoming students. Formosa said the Chinese students actually don’t want to come to a small community but their parents want them here.

“It’s a good place for them to get an education,” Formosa said.

He added that the students come from wealthy families, and some have already looked at moving to Powell River, so councillors are “pretty excited about this.”

There is a reciprocal component to the agreement. Formosa said Powell River representatives have an opportunity to occupy free space in Sino Bright’s main office, which he believes is in Beijing. This will assist this community in broadening its economic revitalization plan.

City councillors unanimously voted to support the memorandum of understanding between Sino Bright School, School District 47, Vancouver Island University and the city.

According to the MOU, Sino Bright School students study both the BC school curriculum and the official Chinese curriculum. The school wants to establish a campus in Powell River to create a cultural centre to foster cultural exchange and international understanding by integrating relevant Chinese curriculum, language and culture into the BC program. The strategy is also for the school district and VIU to deliver school and post-secondary educational programs to qualified Sino Bright students in Powell River and China.

In a second economic announcement, it appears the aviation industry will be taking flight in Powell River. Pacific Coastal Airlines and Upper Valley Aviation from Chilliwack have agreed with lease terms for occupying space at Powell River Airport Industrial Park.

Formosa said Upper Valley Aviation is a three-shift operation that refurbishes aircraft. He said the company is looking to expand to the Dash-8 aircraft series and the lease agreement permits the company to move its expansion to Powell River airport.

In conjunction with the Upper Valley Aviation agreement, the city was able to negotiate with Pacific Coastal Airlines to join them and move their aircraft rebuilding facilities to Powell River airport.

The announcement was greeted with applause.

Formosa said there will be more details on this initiative at a news conference that the city will be hosting on Saturday. He said there will also be other plans that the city will be talking about.

“These are not the only new initiatives that we have coming to help turn our economy around in Powell River,” he said.

Mac Fraser, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the airport project is not quite a done deal because there has just been an exchange of letters of intent. There are still some formal approvals and details that need to be completed before the initiatives are finalized, he said.

Councillors unanimously carried a motion that the two letters of intent and the corporate replies that had been discussed in camera be released to the public.

The city has also initiated a purchase of the trees in Millennium Park. Councillor Russell Brewer said that while the city owns the land, Island Timberlands owns the rights to the trees, located on about 50 hectares of land. The city has agreed to pay Island Timberlands $1,125,000 for the timber, to be paid in two installments from funds allocated from the Powell River Community Forest.

“We’ve been in negotiation for some time now to release the rights to that timber,” Brewer said. “I’m happy we’ve finally landed on an agreement to purchase that timber so it will truly be a park without having to worry about whether the trees get cut or not.”

Brewer said the trees are situated in behind the property the city owns at the Powell River Recreation Complex, and in Millennium Park, including trees above the Willingdon Beach Trail.

Brewer said it was nice to be able to call it a full park. The comment was greeted with applause from the full gallery.

Councillors unanimously approved the agreement with Island Timberlands for the timber rights purchase.

The news conference will take place at 2:30 pm on Saturday, October 18, in the banquet room at Powell River Town Centre Hotel.

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