In a column last year, I described the town of Hamiota as a good example of a successful rural economy. On a recent return visit, I called Ed Brethour, the town’s economic development officer, to see if the prosperity was continuing. Despite formidable odds, the answer is yes.
They’ve just endured a mind-boggling array of bad news regarding the beef and PMU industries. Outside of the hog business, which itself is struggling with low prices, there is precious little to cheer about these days, even with the possibility of easing U.S. border restrictions on cattle. But Brethour recited an impressive array of facts and statistics, which countered the notion that Hamiota’s prosperity was a mere flash in the pan or that there was no hope for the rural economy.
Hamiota continues to thrive, based in large part on the livestock industry. Since the first hog barn was built in 2000, four more barns have been added and another has just been approved in the Rural Municipality of Strathclair. A specialized “boar barn” is set to open; the first in Canada with air conditioning. Increasing hog production in the area has not only benefited agriculture, but there have been significant community spin-offs.
With a one percent vacancy rate, finding a place to live in Hamiota is difficult, and getting more expensive, as real estate values are rising between five and ten percent a year. With the help of the Brandon Area Foundation, a new community daycare is under construction, to make life easier for the many young families who are moving into the area. Brethour noted that the increase in the number of children under six years of age means that the local school is secure.
The town is back up to its complement of five doctors, after a successful recruitment to replace the two that had left. Hamiota is home to the head office of Premium Pork, which has added a trucking facility and a truck wash to its complex.
Hamiota now has wireless Internet and DSL, along with a brand new AT&T communications tower. MTS is looking at the feasibility of building a tower as well. The development of this infrastructure has resulted in an increased demand for training programs in the communications and information industries, according to Brethour. The skill sets in the entire community are constantly improving or, as Brethour repeated to me over and over again, “Success breeds success.”
This entire suite of community benefits can be traced back to livestock. The 12,000-head feedlot and the Cattlex brokerage house provide more jobs and regional incomes, in addition to the expansion of the hog industry. Fears of negative environmental impacts have proven to be unfounded. Brethour notes that there have been no water quality problems to date, and any odour issues have been confined to the occasional “whiff” from a lagoon on a windy day.
Brethour emphasized the responsibility of the community to provide leadership. Hamiota worked very hard to develop the livestock industry, with environmental and economic sustainability in mind. Making new workers feel welcome and emphasizing job creation is still the community’s top priority.
It looks like the hog industry has put the “ham in Hamiota.”