As the presidential election in the U.S. heats up, its fragile economy is taking centre stage. Here closer to home in Westman, we are grappling with a different set of issues — those brought on by growth.
The Westman economy is firing on all cylinders. Many sectors of the agricultural economy are having banner years and the positive effects are being felt across the region. The oilpatch in southwestern Manitoba continues to grow at a rapid pace. We will see more than $100 million in wages from direct oil well activity this year; this sector alone has grown almost 400 per cent in the past five years.
In terms of population growth, the expansion of Maple Leaf Foods has made a significant contribution. The population growth includes an influx of younger residents to Brandon who are bringing new life to our schools. As many regions of rural Canada struggle with the impact of an aging population and a loss of youth, we have been fortunate to see an increase in the school-aged population in our region.
The Brandon School Division has been grappling with its space needs as a result of this population growth and a change to provincial public policy that requires smaller class sizes for students in grades K-3. The school division forecasts that by 2021, there will be an additional 1,736 students enrolled in Brandon. That’s more than a 20 per cent increase from the enrolment in 2012. By 2016, we may need an additional 25 classrooms in Brandon to accommodate our K-12 students.
As president of Assiniboine Community College, I was very interested to hear that one of the ideas which emerged from a number of the public consultations was allowing the Brandon School Division to take over part or all of our Victoria Avenue East campus to help with their space needs. This would be made possible by completing the move of ACC’s programs and services to our North Hill campus. From my perspective this idea could be a win-win-win-win scenario for the community, the school division, ACC and the Province of Manitoba.
As many in the community are aware, discussions on moving ACC to the North Hill now date back more than a decade. The formal announcement that the historic Nurses’ Residence would be transformed was made in 2005 and in 2007, the Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts opened its doors welcoming students from across the province. With the addition of Len Evans Centre for Trades and Technology in 2010, the college now sits split between the North Hill campus and the Victoria Avenue East campus.
So, the idea generated by residents during the public consultations that ACC’s move to the North Hill should be accelerated and that our Victoria Avenue East campus could be repurposed to help address space issues of the school division is certainly one that resonates with me. It allows the Province of Manitoba the opportunity to complete its vision of relocating ACC to the North Hill campus and leaves a legacy that will help to address our growing population.
The Province of Manitoba will be facing some challenges of its own over the next decade. Economic expansion and growth will certainly need to be the key pillars for addressing these challenges. The Westman region is leading the way for the province on economic growth. To ensure that we continue to grow and continue to contribute to the expansion of the economy in Manitoba, it will be necessary for the province to make some signature, strategic investments.
For business and industry, having skilled and talented employees is critical to their ability to prosper, expand and create jobs. A strategic investment that would enhance Assiniboine Community College’s capacity and enable the Brandon School Division to deal with a growing population base makes sense not only for Westman, but for all of Manitoba.
» Mark Frison has been the president of Assiniboine Community College since 2010.