Heavy investor focus on Burns Lake

Utilities and social unity key to move from interest to investment.

Cindy Shelford, Economic Development Officer with the Lakes Economic Development Association in Burns Lake, sat down with the Lakes District News to discuss highlights of her experiences at two recent conferences she attended.

The Natural Resources Forum in Prince George last month, and the more recent Association for Mineral Exploration B.C. (AMEBC) Roundup in Vancouver on Jan. 28, kept Shelford busy discussing and promoting the potential of the Lakes District for natural resource, and other investments.

“The Northwest is on everyone’s radar,” Shelford said. “It’s what everybody’s talking about.”

Mine service-related companies, new biofibre projects, and other industrial or industrial service companies are interested in Burns Lake. Shelford can’t discuss the details of who is interested for the sake of not damaging anybody’s competitive advantage, but she is very optimistic about the potential to attract investor dollars.

But there are issues facing Burns Lake when it comes to attracting investment. Infrastructure issues, as well as a perceived disconnect between different levels of government and First Nations within the region; both serve up roadblocks to getting from thinking about investing to actually investing.

The Burns Lake Recovery Economic Development Transition Team, was formed to help overcome any lack of communication between various local stakeholders and interested investors. The most recent meeting of the working group in Burns Lake on Feb. 7,  2013 led to questions highlighting how infrastructure hurdles may limit the potential for investment in the area.

Carrier Sekani Family Services has recently received a positive feasibility study regarding the construction of a 20,000 square foot health and wellness centre in Burns Lake. A potential problem that came up during the roundtable discussions, according to Shelford, is that the existing infrastructure for sewer and water may be inadequate to service such a large facility.

Another problem facing economic development in Burns Lake is the lack of adequate electricity to power big projects.

“BC Hydro is a problem,” said Shelford. “There just isn’t enough capacity.”

While a robust hydro-electric grid exists west and east of Burns Lake, to service heavy industry like Canfor sawmill in Houston and the Endako Mine just west of Burns Lake, the local electricity grid falls short of investor requirements.

“I’ve brought in delegations from Austria, China, and Finland,” Shelford said. “They want to do business and make investments, but once they start looking at our hydro infrastructure, they see it’s not there.”

Shelford sees an opportunity for a turn-around on the electricity front.

“The New Gold [mine] project will need a massive supply, as will the proposed cold-water release project at the Kenney dam,” Shelford said. “BC Hydro needs to see a business case, and those are a couple of projects that could support our case.”

There’s no shortage of investment dollars looking for a home, especially in Burns Lake. It’s been Shelford’s experience, most recently at the conferences in Prince George and Vancouver, that investors are looking to see how investment-ready Burns Lake is.