First Nation sees value-added opportunities with industrial park: Fort William First Nation teams up with Thunder Bay to organize, promote on-reserve brownfield property.

AuthorRoss, Ian

Fort William First Nation and the City of Thunder Bay have reached common ground on a sizeable spread of largely vacant industrial land.

For the past three years, the neighbouring communities have been huddling on a monthly basis to strategize how to make 1,100 acres of brownfield property on the reserve development-ready for tenants.

With large swaths of industrial land limited in Thunder Bay and the business-minded First Nation of 900 always having aspirations to create an industrial park on its dubiously dubbed Grand Trunk Pacific Lands, a new economic relationship has taken shape.

Whenever the Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission fielded queries about industrial properties, the extensive acreage over in Fort William always came up in the conversation.

"There's not a lot (of industrial land) in the city," said Michael Pelletier Sr., Fort William's economic development director. "It makes sense."

What to do to maximize the benefits from such a large, underutilized asset to create jobs and business opportunities became a topic for discussion in a joint working group of local politicians and economic development officers from both communities.

The initiative was funded by the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, a program under the Community Economic Development Initiative banner, designed to enhance more collaboration between First Nations and municipalities.

"We eventually saw that we have a lot in common with the same type of goals," said Pelletier.

The group recently announced the Fort William First Nation Industrial Lands are ripe for businesses engaged in the mining, forestry, transportation, energy, manufacturing, and service and supply sectors.

"We're open to many ideas, really," said Pelletier. "We've been pursuing a number of them, but getting the lands better organized would be conducive toward attracting more tenants."

The parcel of property hugs the winding south shore of the Kaministiquia (Kam) River between Fort William and Thunder Bay, flowing into Thunder Bay harbour and Lake Superior.

It's an industrial site selector's dream with railway and commercial port access, natural gas and power connections, and its proximity to the Trans-Canada Highway, Highway 61 to the Minnesota border and Thunder Bay Airport.

Spread out on the property are some existing tenants, including Resolute Forest Products' sawmill, fabricator Coastal Steel, asphalt...

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