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Entrepreneur possesses 'pioneering instinct.' (Vic Prokopchuk) (Northern Achievement)

Prokopchuk helped launch Canada's cable television industry

The natural rugged beauty of northwestern Ontario beckoned to a young entrepreneur in 1950.

Vic Prokopchuk enjoyed the outdoors and what he describes as the freedom and quality of life that the small mining town of Atikokan promised him. Today his 42 years of commitment to business and the community are being recognized with the Northern Ontario Business Award for Entrepreneur of the Year, sponsored by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

As a student of electrical engineering at the University of Toronto, Prokopchuk got his first taste of Northern Ontario while spending his summers working in Fort Frances for the former Department of Mines and Forests.

After completing his studies, he decided to move north and conquer the wilderness.

Prokopchuk worked as the radio electrician responsible for radio and telephone communications for Steep Rock Iron Mines.

In May 1955, with only $2,000 in his pocket, Prokopchuk designed and built one of the first cable television systems in Canada. He then became president and general manager of Nor-Video Services Ltd. of Atikokan.

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome was getting people to invest in something that, at the time, was more like science fiction. Television was in its infancy, and no one could imagine having more than one channel.

"No one heard of it (cable). The bankers had certainly never heard of it," Prokopchuk recalls.

However, he managed to scrounge up $15,000, and Chapples Ltd., a local furniture store, put up the other half of the financing.

Prokopchuk recalls that as soon as Chapples sold a television set, the customer "broke our backs" to connect the service.

He sold the cable system to Norwont Ltd. in 1975 and remained president and manager of the Atikokan and Fort Frances systems until 1978.

While he calls the launch of cable television his greatest success, Prokopchuk admits that he could never have predicted the impact it would have on society.

"The cable industry was the start of the info-age economy," he says. "It's an exciting world. Since 1950 it has been changing economically and politically."

Prokopchuk describes himself as the sort of person who has the "excitement and commitment" to make an idea work.

But, he warns that with some ideas you can "run into a blank wall.

"Every idea isn't a good idea," he warns. "Pursue it so long as it's useful."

According to Prokopchuk, the key to finding opportunities that work is knowing what people need.

"The key element is to get involved -- be a community leader," he advises. "Get involved wherever it's needed. A necessary ingredient in business is community contribution."

Prokopchuk was one of the community leaders that helped Atikokan survive the loss of its mines in the 1970s. About 2,000 jobs were lost and Atikokan was in danger of becoming a ghost town.

One of the lessons learned from the closure of the mines was to see change as an opportunity.

"Look at changes and see if you can be involved. Rather than see yourself as a victim of change -- make use of it," advises Prokopchuk.

In 1978 he became shareholder and director of Superior Rock Bit Company of Minnesota which supplies the open-pit mining industry with large-diameter rotary drill bits. He established and operated this partnership, which markets bits throughout Canada and the U.S.

The company's sales increased from $500,000 in 1980 to more than $7 million in 1991. Prokopchuk resigned from the board in 1989 and is now president of Superior Rock Bit Canada Inc.

In 1978 Prokopchuk and two partners built and started operating the White Otter Inn in Atikokan. He is still co-owner and secretary-treasurer of the $1-million motel and dining room which caters to business and tourist travel.

Prokopchuk is also secretary-treasurer of Atikokan Printing Ltd., a company he and a partner bought in 1982, and he helps his wife operate a travel agency.

Recognized for his "pioneering instinct," Prokopchuk was invited to England to become a founding shareholder and director of Yorcan Communications Ltd in 1990, a company founded by Canadian and British telecommunications experts to pursue television cable and telecommunications opportunities in the U.K.

With Yorcan Prokopchuk acted as a technical design director for a $40-million telecommunications system for the cities of York and Harrogate in England.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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