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Creating the northwestern knowledge economy.

A couple of months ago I wrote an article on the future economic well-being of our region and the need to further diversify our economy. In fact, northwestern Ontario is still heavily reliant on resource industries (i.e. approximately 40 percent of jobs are created in the forest, pulp and paper, mining industry and related support services such as supply and transportation). The strong Canadian dollar, the high cost of energy and American countervailing duties on lumber are creating what many would call the "perfect storm." Mills from Kenora to Terrace Bay have been experiencing shutdowns and layoffs. The most recent casualty was Norampac Inc. in Red Rock, which announced on Sept. 21 that it will lay off up to 175 employees.

Municipal leaders across the region are very cognizant of the need for diversification and the creation of new economic opportunities that would help smooth out the ups and downs of cyclical resource-based industries. The need to move towards a knowledge-based economy is now reaching a climax. It was rewarding to see the launch of OurNorth.com portal at the NOMA (Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association) conference on Sept. 22 in Thunder Bay. This launch promised to be the first phase of an ongoing effort to build the "Information Highway." It will be fully operational on November 1.

To put this exciting project in perspective, we will need to step back to the fall of 2002, when the Northern Genesis organization was formed. Its mandate was to begin to build the foundation for a regional communication system that would connect the citizens of Northwestern Ontario utilizing the newest advancements in communication technology. Many individuals and organizations (at all levels of government) have expanded a lot of work and effort since then, and such efforts are starting to pay off.

The cutting-edge software features a multi-layered community information system, a new interactive health information system, a fully interactive tourism destination management system and an economic development information center that can organize and individually direct opportunities to virtually every business in the region.

Now that the infrastructure has been built, we need to start using it. The second phase of the regional portal's development has set out some equally ambitious goals for the 2006-2008 project plan. During this phase, all communities will have the opportunity to participate in the initiative and be provided with training and support. The OurNorth.com team will also seek out and engage any regional effort that can add value to the regional portal initiative. It will establish a value-added sustainability program for the portal's management that includes hands-on employment opportunities for post-graduate interns, as well as work experience placements for local students studying technology, business and social sciences.

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The scope of this project is enormous, and I can only provide a general overview in this article. In this regard, I will be expanding on the various sectors in future articles as each component of this project offers a wealth of opportunities to improve lives in the north, create a new economy, and the promise of a better future. In the meantime, for further information and to get your community or organization involved, please visit www.ournorth.com or contact Bob Hancherow, community development manager (Superior North Community Futures Development Corp.) at 1-888-445-9999 or e-mail bob@sncfdc.com.

Frank Pullia is the Principal of Pullia Accounting & Consulting and a former City Councillor in Thunder Bay. He can be reached at (807) 767-6579 or via e-mail at frank@frankpullia.com
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Title Annotation:A WINDOW ON THE NORTHWEST
Author:Pullia, Frank
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:583
Previous Article:Star-studded Sault Ste. Marie.
Next Article:Hydro rates put 'writing on the wall' for northwestern industry.
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