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Nunavut spinoffs for Churchill

Contracting firm with booming business sees port as key

Lyle Clifford of Umingmak Supply in Winnipeg.

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KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Lyle Clifford of Umingmak Supply in Winnipeg.

Business at a Nunavut contracting company is booming and its owners say Churchill will play an increasingly important role as its preferred supply-chain route.

Allan Lahure has seen business at his Baker Lake Contracting & Supplies company grow steadily, helped by the opening last year of Agnico-Eagle's Meadowbank gold mine, 70 kilometres north of Baker Lake.

His company's growth includes the acquisition in 2007 of a distribution company called Umingmak Supply. Its Inkster Industrial Park operation is shipping building products up the Hudson Bay Railway to Churchill, where they are barged to communities along the west coast of Hudson Bay.

That's a scenario many say has great growth potential for Manitoba's transportation sector.

"Our connections with Manitoba are much more direct than through Montreal," Lahure said in an interview from his Baker Lake headquarters.

He said because of the unique challenges of servicing small, isolated communities in Nunavut, there are particular shipping and freight-forwarding issues that need to be addressed. In the past, northern customers have not had a lot of options but to do business with the traditional shippers out of Montreal.

But with Lahure's own Winnipeg operations and increasing interest in the Nunavut market in Manitoba, things may be changing.

Brad Chase, newly installed Winnipeg-based president of OmniTRAX Canada, is intent on growing Manitoba's share of that Nunavut resupply business.

It means more Manitoba businesses need to make an effort to win contracts there, but it also requires improvements to the whole infrastructure of moving goods north.

OmniTRAX is addressing that supply-chain efficiency issue with the creation this summer of a joint venture with Nunavut partners called Nunavut Connections.

The company provides stevedoring services and a seamless supply-chain operation from Churchill to the North.

Chase is in Rankin Inlet today at a meeting of Kivaliq-area mayors. It is part of the efforts of OmniTRAX -- which owns the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill -- to grow its Nunavut business.

"We just completed a successful year shipping 10,000 tonnes of cargo delivered there on time and on schedule," Chase said. "We intend to grow that considerably."

That volume represents less than 20 per cent of the total, with the bulk of the Arctic sealift still coming primarily out of Quebec.

Chase and many others -- including business groups led by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and CentrePort Canada -- say there is a real opportunity to change that dynamic.

"The North represents a unique opportunity for Manitoba," said Diane Gray, CEO of CentrePort Canada. "We should not squander it, but find a way to build on the asset we have -- the only deep-sea Arctic port in Canada."

Developing more partnerships and business with Nunavut is another element of the Manitoba Bold campaign, a private-sector initiative led by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce to inject fresh economic development ideas into the public debate during the current provincial election campaign.

Lahure said the opening of that one gold mine in Nunavut last year has had a significant impact on the GDP of the entire territory. And while his contracting and construction company would like to do more business in Manitoba, it will only happen if more southern suppliers become interested in that market.

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