The annual natural resources forum earlier this week has become one of the most anticipated events of the year in Prince George. Launched nearly a dozen years ago by former MLA Pat Bell, the event draws residents from around northern BC to hear the latest information from high-ranking executives of the companies doing business in the region. And they shared a lot of information. Topics covered multi-storey wood buildings (“the future of the industry” according to West Fraser), Liquefied natural gas (“literally transforming the face of our country forever” according to Premier Clark), mining (“BC’s competitive edge is the availability of freshwater and power” said Tony Jensen of New Gold), electricity generation (“It’s delusional to think rates won’t go up” predicted Donald McInnes of Alterra), and bioenergy (“all of the knowledge we have of this sector is going to double in the next 18 months” suggested Ken Shields of Conifex Timber and President of the Canadian Bioenergy Association).
For all the talk of resources, a significant part of the conversation also focused on people. The LNG proponents all talked about the challenge of attracting skilled labour to both construct and operate the export terminals as well as in upstream gas extraction. Leroy Reitsma of Pinnacle Pellet linked the attraction of talent to cost-competitiveness. And Heather Oland of Initiatives Prince George presented two imperatives: training labour for industry and educating citizens for communities.
Heather was one of three UNBC alumni who occupied the podium during the forum (the others were Tracey Wolsey of Suncor and Jason Fisher of Dunkley Lumber). She is the head of Prince George’s economic development agency and was also one of 30 graduates who participated in a breakfast with about 25 MLAs immediately prior to the start of the Natural Resources Forum. The MLAs were in Prince George for a caucus meeting the day before and the gathering with grads was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When else could a small group of grads have access to so many MLAs, including the Ministers of Health, Education, Advanced Education, Jobs, Aboriginal Affairs, and Community Development? The alumni group included CEOs, Executive Directors, entrepreneurs, and chiefs representing sectors ranging from forestry, energy, and mining to local government, public health, and education.
Gradually, it’s becoming apparent that while alumni may not – yet – be occupying senior positions in the corporations making major investments in the region, it’s easy to find them in influential positions throughout the region. And they’re trailblazers. Derek Baker is one example. Even before he graduated with his Commerce degree in 2011, he was the first-ever economic development intern at the Northern Development Initiative Trust. He was posted in Prince Rupert and since then, the Prince George native has gone on to become the first employee of Pacific Northwest LNG, a proposed natural gas liquefaction facility within the District of Port Edward (just south of Prince Rupert) that would export natural gas extracted by Progress Energy in northeastern BC and delivered by a pipeline to be constructed by TransCanada. The majority shareholder in the project – Petronas – estimates the total investment at $36 billion.
And this is just one of the proposed projects.
It’s an opportunity not lost on Derek Baker. “Potential investments in the tens of billions of dollars represent significant employment opportunities in a diverse range of professions including engineering, environmental studies, business analysis, and administration to name a few,” says Baker, who is the company’s community relations advisor. “The education I received at UNBC has been the foundation on which I have built my career. UNBC is the only school that provides education through a Northern BC lens; introducing you to and preparing you for situations, opportunities and challenges unique to working in Northern BC.”
Good luck to all of the UNBC alumni applying their education, skills, and values to the many diverse resource development questions currently being explored in Northern BC. The region depends on them.