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Saskatchewan Power Corp. is building a 350-megawatt, $680-million power plant at Swift Current, Sask. The plant is considered a key driver for the city's population and job growth.

Walk through Swift Current and it’s likely you’ll encounter a handsome brick-and-glass office building that’s the headquarters of the local credit union. It’s down the road from the hockey arena, and that’s not far from the gas-fired power plant that’s more than halfway completed.

Denis Perrault sees something bigger in all of this – a growth plan for his city.

“We call it Grow Swift. We’re trying to grow both aggressively and organically. We’re trying to bring more business here,” says Mr. Perrault, mayor of this city of 18,000, roughly midway between Regina and Calgary.

Swift Current is anxious to toot its horn and grow to 25,000 people by 2025.

The office building, which houses Innovation Credit Union, is one building block for the city. But it’s not the only one.

It’s not even the only building in town with the credit union’s name on the front. Down the road is the Innovation Credit Union iPlex, a 40,000-square-foot complex that’s home to the Swift Current Broncos, a major junior team in the Western Hockey League.

And of course, there’s the power plant.

Unlike communities in Ontario, where a gas-fired plant is about as welcome as a family of raccoons feasting in your garbage can, Swift Current is actually welcoming the facility.

It’s a big one, too – a 350-megawatt, $680-million Saskatchewan Power Corp. project that’s bringing an estimated 650 jobs to the community in the construction phase.

The power plant, expected to open in late 2019, will provide electricity to the equivalent of 350,000 homes. The city is optimistic that its presence will help Swift Current achieve its goal of adding 1,000 new residents a year over the next seven years.

This kind of growth may seem like a rounding error to regions such as the Greater Toronto Area, which will add millions of people by 2030 and is seeing its infrastructure bursting at the seams.

But boosting economic development in places like Swift Current can be an uphill battle, and the mayor and civic leaders believe the city needs to be strategic if it is to attract new people.

“Lots of cities are good at building their brand through promoting tourism. But it’s more difficult and more unusual for cities to promote economic development through the lens of brand-building,” says Jordan Herald, co-chief executive officer of Gravity Partners Ltd., a Toronto firm that Swift Current engaged to help promote its economic side.

To build its image, a city like Swift Current has to contemplate less of what would make someone want to visit and more of what would encourage them to stay, Mr. Herald says.

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The Innovation Credit Union headquarters is a symbol of the city's plans to grow and attract business.

“It’s a matter of thinking about why a company would want to move, relocate and invest in a city. It’s not just the economics; companies look at the human factor, what it would be like for their people to live there if they invest.”

Raising the population of a community like Swift Current is also a matter of survival. Boosting and diversifying commercial activity means getting beyond the boom-and-bust cycles that the Prairie provinces often endure, as the energy and agriculture sectors, on which they depend, go up and down.

The city’s pitch is simple: Why not Swift Current? It may not be the first place Corporate Canada considers for building and investment, but it’s pushing hard to become a business-friendly crossroads, seeing a brighter future if it can diversify its industries and attract professionals.

It’s the sixth-largest city in Saskatchewan, as of the 2016 Census, but it aspires to punch above its weight. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business ranked Swift Current No. 1 among mid-sized Canadian cities in entrepreneurial spirit.

Swift Current’s business pitch was compelling enough to attract ETG Commodities Inc., which gathers and transports food commodities such as pulses around the world, to purchase a processing facility in the city, its first in Western Canada.

In 2014, ETG bought a facility that had been established in Swift Current in the 1980s. It has invested $20-million in the city.

“Transportation access for our products from there is seamless,” says Rav Kapoor, the company’s CEO, explaining one of the reasons ETG has taken root in Swift Current. But the city’s population growth is even more important.

“We need a pool of skilled labour. One of the most important things for any business is to have enough people to run things,” Mr. Kapoor says.

In addition to an expanding work force, Swift Current is centrally located, he adds. A quarter of Canada’s pulse crop is within 100 kilometres of Swift Current, “and it’s a good hub, so if I have to call a shipping line, it’s easier to reach someone than in some of the smaller parts of Saskatchewan."

As well as counting on the spinoff economic activity that the new gas plant is expected to bring, Swift Current is also encouraging alternative, renewable energy – even as the provincial government pushes hard against the federal government’s proposed nationwide carbon pricing program.

“We know we’ve got oil and gas underground, but we also know that we’ve got some of the best wind and solar [power] resources around,” says Mr. Perrault, the mayor.

In fact, the skies over Swift Current are among the clearest in Canada, with nearly 2,400 hours of sunshine a year. And the city claims to have the most consistently steady winds in Saskatchewan, which is good for turbines.

The city is also near Canada’s only high-grade helium plant – which is not only good news for those who enjoy talking in high-squeaky voices. Helium is used as a coolant in advanced technology such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machines and in space programs.

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The Swift Current Broncos are among the teams that play out of the Innovation Credit Union iPlex arena, one of the city's hubs.

Swift Current’s push to attract new business

– Municipal tax exemptions, for both new businesses and existing business expansion, with the option for city council to provide a 100-per-cent tax break for five years.

– Low corporate taxes and provincial sales tax exemptions for agents used directly in manufacturing.

– New 350-megawatt gas plant welcomed by the city.

– Provincial rebates of 35 per cent for small-scale (35-kilowatt or less) wind turbines.

– Typical commercial property leasing cost for a coffee shop: 1,200 square feet at $37.95 a square foot per year, equalling $45,540.

Sources: City of Swift Current, ICR Commercial

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