New business ventures and initiatives underway across Manitoba
Maria Deschauer loves eating tomatoes. A lot.
“Almost every day,” she says. “Tomatoes are a big part of my personal food choices.”
Her passion for the plump, red fruit that’s commonly called a vegetable is ideal for her career choice, too.
Deschauer is one of three co-founders of Vermillion Growers and the company’s managing director. The Dauphin-based business is Manitoba’s first large-scale greenhouse and will grow thousands of tomatoes on the vine.
How large is it?
Well, the $35-million first phase of the sustainable project features a 12-acre greenhouse structure, including 10 acres of growing space under glass and two acres of irrigation and technical components for its hydroponic system that uses captured snow and rainwater. The site has the potential to expand to 70 acres and add different vegetables.
“In the industry it’s really small, but for Manitoba and for our first go at this it’s a good size,” she says.
Vermillion Growers is one example of business ventures that are boosting economic growth in rural communities across the province in places such as Dauphin, Flin Flon, Selkirk and Steinbach.
The company has 30 full-time employees, but Deschauer estimates three full-time employees will be added with every acre of expansion. That means a potential for 210 jobs.
“For rural economic development that is huge because you have that cascading effect,” she says, explaining those jobs draw families and the community will need more services such as teachers, stores and housing.
After various delays, the first crop of about 86,000 specially grafted plants from B.C. will be started in August inside coconut husk that helps move nutrients to the roots.
It’s a day she and co-founders Mark Kohan and Lucky Deschauer, her brother who goes by his nickname, are really looking forward to. Kohan’s areas of expertise are funding and financial management, while Lucky is a master carpenter with experience in farming and building greenhouses.
Lucky has an interest in food security and sparked the greenhouse idea, she says, noting Canada imports 90 per cent of the fresh tomatoes that are consumed. Tomatoes are also the second-most consumed vegetable in the world after potatoes and they’re easy to grow in a greenhouse.
The plants in their greenhouse should yield about 10 million pounds of tomatoes over a one-year cycle. They’ll be marketed and distributed through Ontario’s Red Sun Farms and sold primarily in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and some parts of Alberta.
The co-founders are proud to help economic development in the Parkland region. Her brother and Kohan live in Dauphin, while she makes her home in Ile des Chenes just south of Winnipeg. They’ve received an “incredible amount” of community support and have private investors.
A provincial tax credit program helped make the project possible, she says. It allowed private investors to have up to 45 per cent of their investment become a non-refundable Manitoba tax credit. She estimates they’ve raised close to $3 million via the program.
“The small business venture capital tax credit program is huge. Huge, huge. I can’t say more about it for rural economic development, or for any form of economic development in Manitoba,” she says.
“Having access to programs like that encourages our community members to invest in their community and invest in new ventures that will support economic growth in rural communities.”
Vermillion Growers will also be able to tap into rebates for education property tax credits for up to 20 years once the company is operational, which Deschauer says will help offset some of their running costs.
The City of Dauphin and Rural Municipality of Dauphin also created the Dauphin Business Park, a 123-acre site just outside the city that became ready for development last year. Competitive land costs and tax incentives are available for developers and business owners.
Steinbach pilot project
Economic growth is also a key focus in Steinbach and the areas surrounding Manitoba’s third-largest city.
The City of Steinbach formed a public/private partnership with a stakeholder group of 26 private businesses in a five-year pilot project that began in 2021 and created the Steinbach Economic Development Corp.
Michelle Bezditny, the former executive director of the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce, became the corporation’s second director of economic development in November 2022. The chamber helped get the partnership off the ground and a member sits on the corporation’s board of directors.
Bezditny was born in the Steinbach hospital, raised on a farm in nearby Randolph and has the desire and drive to help the city she now lives in grow and prosper.
“I’m beyond thrilled. I’m honoured,” Bezditny says. “Understanding Steinbach is something that is easy for me. The set of values hard-wired into Steinbach (include being) community-minded, generous, loyal and hard working.”
The city’s diverse population, including 22 per cent who are newcomers, was just under 20,000 as of early last year, she says. The trading areas of the southeastern region expand that number to more than 100,000, which encompasses the R.M.s of Hanover, Ste. Anne and La Broquerie.
Bezditny says the economic corporation has begun a four-pronged process to:
• Determine Steinbach’s competitive advantage related to provincial, national and global trends
• Identify gaps and barriers to achieving goals
• Determine what the lead opportunities are that support the corporation’s initial area of focus
• Build the growth and development of a diverse economic base
A proposal of the corporation’s action plan was to be presented by early June to the stakeholder group and the city, Bezditny says.
“Economic growth was always happening organically and intentionally from the municipal government and developers,” she notes. “(The corporation) was created to establish a focused and narrowed approach.”
Some big changes are already underway to make Steinbach a desirable location to live and visit.
Construction of a new $66 million Southeast Event Centre in downtown Steinbach began earlier in the year. It will feature two indoor ice surfaces, including one that can convert into a concert or event venue holding up to 4,000 people. There will also be a multi-use hall, an 11,000-square-foot atrium and a walking track.
A new renal unit is being added to the Bethesda Regional Health Centre, as well as 15 acute-care medicine beds and eight surgical beds.
Solar project in Selkirk
The City of Selkirk has taken some big steps toward boosting its economy.
Officials entered into an agreement last fall with Canadian Premium Sand Inc. that allows the company to purchase land in Selkirk for a state-of-the-art solar glass manufacturing plant.
The company describes it as the only facility of its kind in North America, with the first phase expected to be operational in early 2025.
The deal represents a $400-million investment that’s estimated to create 300 jobs and economic spinoffs in the city 30 kilometres from Winnipeg.
“It’s the largest industrial investment in our community in over 100 years,” Selkirk chief administrative officer, Duane Nicol, told media after the announcement.
Selkirk has also attracted Charbone Hydrogen Corp. to build a facility on city land to produce and distribute green hydrogen, which uses a process to create an energy source that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It’ll be the first of its kind in Manitoba.
Hydrogen hub for Flin Flon
The City of Flin Flon is open to bringing hydrogen production to the northern community.
The municipal government entered into a non-binding memorandum of understanding in March with Minnova Renewable Energy. It will evaluate whether Flin Flon is a good location for green hydrogen production, as well as becoming a trading hub for green hydrogen and hydrogen-based energy carriers with neighbouring communities.
“Minnova completed a positive feasibility study on the restart of our 100 per cent owned PL Gold Mine located just 65 kilometres northeast of the City of Flin Flon and are familiar with the city’s infrastructure and commitment to innovation and rejuvenating its industrial base,” Minnova president and chief executive officer, Gorden Glenn, said in a news release.