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Resources, research, riches draw newcomers to hot-spot-Saskatoon Add to ...

The Ikpes have been around: They’ve moved from Abuja, Nigeria, to the United Kingdom, then to Calgary and Toronto before settling in Saskatoon. And for now, at least, they’re in this booming Prairie province to stay.

Them and another 30,000-odd people in the past five years. The 260,000-person city has experienced 11.4 per cent growth since the previous census – the third-fastest growth of the country’s census metropolitan areas. Saskatchewan is flooded with an unprecedented number of immigrants drawn by its white-hot resource sector and the sizable economic ripple effects attached to it.

It’s an embarrassment of riches for a region more used to the opposite: This is the first census out of the past three in which Saskatchewan’s population has had positive growth.

Elias and Mary Ikpe moved to Saskatoon with their two sons, Godwin and Emanuel, barely two months ago. They’re still finding their way around. But Ms. Ikpe, who just started studying microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan, says she likes what she has seen so far.

“There are friendly people in Ontario, but [here] there’s a kind of closeness,” she says. “They’re ready to offer – they try to give the best possible assistance.”

Mr. Ikpe, who spent years working in civil and structural engineering in Abuja and has a doctorate in health and safety management in that field, may finally be able to work in his métier.

“The prospects are here,” he says. “So many companies are moving down here; this is a really good time for someone to come here to look for a job. They’re always looking for people.”

He is hoping to get a job in the public sector, working on infrastructure projects. He came to the right place: The rapid-fire growth of Saskatchewan’s economy and population has existing resources bursting at the seams.

“Infrastructure and housing are challenges that come with growth,” Premier Brad Wall said in an interview. “But we are investing in unprecedented ways to try to keep up with those challenges.”

Between 2006 and 2010, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Saskatoon rose 54 per cent; the rise in housing costs in 2009 was the second highest of any city in Canada.

Those increases have organizations like the United Way of Saskatoon bracing for a potential wave of homelessness similar to that of Calgary years ago, as people with lower incomes get priced out of the market. The provincial government is injecting billions into housing and infrastructure plans, and trying to create incentives for developers to increase rental stock.Mr. Wall would much rather face conundrums of too much growth than the opposite, which is what the province used to have.

“We’ll just keep welcoming more people to the province,” he said.

Bogdan Popescu left a postdoctoral position at the Minnesota Mayo Clinic, one of the best research seats on the continent, a little over a year ago to relocate in Saskatoon.

Now, he’s one of about three people in Canada studying the neuropathology of multiple sclerosis – using the University of Saskatchewan’s synchrotron to scan tissue for metals to see what role they play in the illness.

He came back partly for the familiarity – he did his PhD here – and partly because he and his wife, who’s completing a residency in gynecology, wanted to have their baby in Canada. But it also seemed a good time to be in Saskatoon.

“The Mayo Clinic is one of the best places in the world to do research,” he says. “But they don’t have a synchrotron.”

With a new swagger in their step, Mr. Wall says, Western premiers are less worried about whether Ottawa pays attention to them.

“Even more important than how the federal government views the West … is the fact that the capitals of the Western provinces themselves, and all the provinces, have the scope in our federalism to implement a growth agenda.”

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