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Portage la Prairie pleased with relocation of grounded aircraft program, but public sector jobs on shaky ground

A Manitoba town battered by the impending loss of hundreds of public sector jobs is grateful that a college’s plans to relocate more positions have been thwarted, but the threat still looms over the community.

Red River College Polytechnic’s Aircraft Maintenance Journeyman Apprenticeship Program will not take off from Portage la Prairie in Winnipeg this fall, as planned earlier.

The The aircraft mechanic training program, which attracts students from across the country, will remain in the Portage la Prairie area for at least five years after the college signs a new lease on its Southport campus.

“We are happy to hear that they have delayed the move, but really, we would like to see them drop this idea,” said Manitoba Government and Employees Union President Kyle Ross, whose union represents staff. from campus. .

He does not want the Portage la Prairie region to suffer another economic blow.

The city will lose more than 450 jobs if the provincial government follows through on the closure of several workplaces, according to an economic impact study by the Georgetown Newbury Group commissioned by the MGEU and released earlier this year.

Many job losses

Losses include the closing of the Agassiz Youth Center last month and the closing of the Manitoba Developmental Center next year, as well as earlier job cuts at the Manitoba Addictions Foundation’s Compass residential program and the Crown’s real estate division. Lands Property Agency.

The province has worked with staff and the union to find jobs at other sites for staff affected by the closures.

The impact of the aircraft maintenance program and its eight jobs is small compared to some other public sector workplaces in the city, such as the 370 jobs at the development center that housed adults with disabilities, but he reports a continued decline in good, well-paying jobs, said Portage la Prairie Mayor Irvine Ferris.

“When I talk to rural mayors and reeves across the province, there seems to be a trend of government jobs draining from rural parts of the province to the city of Winnipeg and we are very concerned about that,” he said. -he declares. .

“Rural Manitoba struggles to attract people and services and therefore having some of these jobs goes a long way towards a more stable rural economy.

Ferris said Portage a Prairie, about 85 kilometers west of Winnipeg, has actively supported economic development for years, with a $600 million pea processing plant built by Roquette creating 120 jobs and an expansion of $460 million from the Simplot potato processing plant adding nearly 80 positions.

Portage la Prairie Mayor Irvine Ferris says the community has worked hard to attract economic development, but the loss of some public sector employers will be painful. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Those 200 new jobs help, but they don’t make up for what’s gone, he said.

“The math just doesn’t work for our community,” Ferris said.

In an agricultural economy subject to the vagaries of the weather, provincial jobs “really serve as a safety net” for Portage la Prairie, Ferris said.

The aircraft maintenance program getting a longer runway in Southport, just outside Portage la Prairie, means more than jobs, with many students living in the town and contributing to its economy, said MGEU’s Ross.

“People who go through this program spend money in the town of Portage. They go shopping in malls, they go to restaurants, they go to bars,” Ross said. “They are part of the city.”

He says the school wanted to move the program without properly assessing the logistics of the move.

Students stay in affordable accommodation on site, which is likely cheaper than other options, he said.

Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Kyle Ross says shutting down an education program doesn’t just cut direct jobs, it also affects businesses that serve students. (Ian Froese/CBC)

RRC Polytech wanted to scale the program alongside similar aviation and aerospace programs in Winnipeg, but waited “due to the complexity of program needs and increasing construction and supply chain challenges,” the college said. update to the community said.

In addition to renewing its lease of Southport for five years, RRC Polytech is launching a review of the program to ensure it meets current and future industry needs. Employers, communities, students, staff and faculty will be consulted, the polytechnic said.

Such a review should illustrate the value of the program where it stands, Ross said.

Ferris said he was in regular talks with the government to try to save community jobs, including a potential alternative use for the development center, but talks were unsuccessful.

Optimism in Portage stemming from the construction of agricultural processing centers has given way to uncertainty, he said.

The city’s population fell slightly – less than 50 people – in the 2021 census compared to five years earlier.

“I think business people are trying to figure out what the new scenario looks like because a lot of investments have been made based on new jobs coming in, growth coming in,” Ferris said.

“It’s probably going to cause people to pause.”

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