CRDAC hopes industry partnerships shows 'Conklin is open for business'

Conklin’s leaders hope the partnerships will bring much-needed economic and social development to the hamlet south of Fort McMurray.

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Conklin’s community leaders hope partnerships with seven companies operating in the oilsands will create job opportunities in the community, support social services and improve housing.

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The agreements were announced on Tuesday. They are joint ventures and memorandums of understanding that Scott Duguid, CEO of the Conklin Resource Development Advisory Committee (CRDAC), said will financially benefit the region and help Conklin become self-sufficient. Duguid called the partnerships “a gamechanger” for the mostly-Metis community.

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“Employment is a huge portion of what these agreements talk about and working to get community members meaningfully employed,” said Duguid. “That comes with training and skills development.”

The partnerships are modeled after similar agreements other northern and Indigenous communities have signed with businesses. Those deals have successfully brought revenue and employment into local communities.

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Partner companies include Brothers HDD, Enviromulch Mulching & Logging Services, Gateway Mechanical, Global Fusion Coating, Lynco Energy Services, Great Northern Bridgeworks and Surerus-Murphy Joint Venture.

Duguid said Conklin has enough land for expansion, and potential to be a staging area for companies operating at oilsands sites south of Fort McMurray.

“A number of our partners have said ‘hey, once we’re established, we’d love to build a suboffice or a warehouse where we can hire even more locals,’” he said. “We’re really trying to build a bit of a business enterprise. The message we’re sending is Conklin is open for business.”

The municipality’s 2021 census puts Conklin’s population at 178 people. Despite the small population, Duguid is the first to admit that Conklin urgently needs economic and social development.

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Conklin has battled a housing crisis for years and an estimated 40 new homes are needed to resolve the crisis. A housing program sponsored by Cenovus has yet to build any new homes. The CRDAC blames municipal red tape, while the municipality says the project is complex but within normal timelines.

The community also urgently needs support for health and elders’ care, addictions support, social programming, policing and recreation. Heroin, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have also been found in Conklin lately.

“There’s so many programs that we need to start to build up and to build a healthier community that’s healthier across the board,” said Duguid. “It’s a bit of a free-for-all from a crime perspective right now.”

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Duguid feels Conklin’s fortunes are starting to turn around, though. A week before the CRDAC announced its partnerships, the Alberta government approved a grant for an employment readiness survey. Conklin’s leaders will assess the employment skills and education levels of residents, and develop plans for filling shortages.

“Hopefully we will train people in the Conklin area. We can both benefit from working together,” said Doug Golosky, a Metis entrepreneur and board chair of Lynco Energy Services, in an interview. “We’re involved in training with our McMurray Metis, for example, and they’ve signed partnerships that are very beneficial for the region. We can benefit Conklin by doing the same thing.”

Energy and Minerals Minister Brian Jean praised the initiative, as did UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo Tany Yao.

“Northern Alberta is ripe for economic development, tourism and transportation corridor developments and this partnership is indicative of the potential,” said Yao, who is also Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business and Northern Development, in a statement.

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