Location scouts for big business now have Prince George in their sights.
A contingent of these specialists came to the city this week to tour industrial facilities, education institutions, transportation amenities and other key features a major business might be looking for in a new location.
The visitors were invited here and hosted by Initiatives Prince George (IPG). There are only a few such people in Canada, with most based in the United States. One of the inbound "site selectors" was Jerry Szatan of Chicago. He admitted his knowledge of this area was small before he arrived, but was taken aback by what he saw.
"I discovered that there is a huge amount of capital investment both in the works and on the books for the near future - billions of dollars in industry," he said. "I was surprised by a lot of things, but I was most impressed by your training institutions, UNBC and the College of New Caledonia."
Training facilities are important to many speculative corporations, he said, because they prefer the cost-effectiveness of hiring a local workforce in the places they set up operations, rather than importing a workforce.
"Your low unemployment rate is obviously very good for your local economy in a lot of ways, but it is one of the worries that an international company will have, if they consider Prince George," he explained. "The concern is, who will work for me if everyone is already employed? Can I attract workers with the skills I need? Or, can I attract people to this town from other places and be confident they will stay there to live?"
"We wanted to give exposure to what we know is an under-told story," IPG CEO Heather Oland said. "We have opportunities available here that have not been well examined outside of those who are directly impacted, but with all that is going on economically here, there is so much that can build off of that. But you have to tell that story strategically, not scattered."
These site selector professionals are networked into thousands of companies all over the world looking for opportunities to settle down somewhere for business purposes. Rather than try to access each one individually, teaching these specialized consultants was a quicker way to spread the Prince George word.
"The second part, for us, was also to learn from the site selectors," Oland said. They are experts in what companies are looking for in a community. We have told our story over and over again, and we are comfortable doing that, but we always have to question are we doing it most effectively? Are we highlighting our competitive advantages the best ways and in the best places?"
Szatan had his own secondary motives for coming to the area. He confessed he was a junkie for industrial operations, and the chance to tour pulp mills and chemical plants here was too tantalizing to resist.
"The most important thing a consultant sells is what he or she knows," said Szatan. "Selfishly, I came here because I wanted to learn. This was a place full of things I knew little or nothing about and I instinctively knew I would find out a lot of new things, things I could one day use for my advantage in my consultations."
Szatan said the kind of business that would most likely be interested in this area are those connected to resource-based activities. A business less likely to find this place interesting are major retailers who need a critical mass of people. Some manufacturers might also not wish to locate far from major populations. But research and development, high-tech and communications businesses often don't have those constraints. They require skilled and motivated people, most of all, and if training facilities like CNC and UNBC can be capitalized on, the other features of Prince George could win the region some lucrative economic diversity, he said.