Saskatchewan supplies 20% of the world’s uranium, as well as potash, making Saskatchewan one of the few provinces with a healthy mining industry. The Athabasca Basin is the centrepiece of uranium mining in Saskatchewan, host to the world’s richest high-grade uranium deposits. The Northern area covers almost a quarter of Saskatchewan and a small portion of Alberta. Athabasca Basin Development (ABD) is an investment company committed to building and investing in successful businesses, explains Kristy Jackson, director of marketing and communications at ABD. The company is owned by the seven communities in northern Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin.
Formed in 2002, Athabasca Basin Development was established to maximize local community participation in the opportunities in the mining industry. ABD has grown to include complete or partial ownership in eleven companies providing a wide range of services. The company represents a unique partnership of First Nations and non-First Nations communities working together. This community unity was key to the company’s success.
“Because the Athabasca Basin area hosts the world’s richest high-grade uranium deposits, there are many mining and exploration activities happening in the region. Our company, owned by the seven Athabasca communities, was formed to maximize local community participation in the opportunities in the mining industry, and today we have ownership in numerous companies that provide services to the mining and exploration industry. As well, we are always open to exploring new ideas and opportunities,” says Kristy. “Whether it’s an established business, a partnership, project, or a potential start-up idea, we encourage people to contact us. Cameco has several operations in the area and employs many people from the region at their mine sites. Cameco has also been a client of many of our investments and was a strong supporter of ours in the early days and today.”
The company is attentive to its business strategy, taking into account current trends and planning ahead. “Because of the current market conditions, we expect a decrease in consolidated revenues over the next year. This market slowdown is a normal part of the mining and resource industry and something to be expected—it’s something we’ve experienced before,” explains Kristy. “Last year, we made the decision to diversify our portfolio and begin investing in industries that are different than what we have currently done. Arctic Beverages, a Pepsi franchise company servicing northern Manitoba, was the first of these investments, and we expect more to come over the following year.”
ABD relies on successful investments to build revenue and generate growth within the company and participating communities. “Our mandate is to build wealth for our shareholder communities by investing in and growing sustainable businesses. We are very strongly focused on long-term results,” Kristy says. “By keeping the focus on building wealth for the future, and reinvesting the majority of profits, ABD has grown to be able to make an impact on the Athabasca communities through distributions.” ABD currently pays out a stable distribution to each community. “Our strategy is to keep these distributions down to a level where we know we can continue to pay them so that they can be relied upon, as well as ensuring that we keep the majority of our profits in the company for reinvestment. The sum goes directly to the unit holder and its use is not dictated by us, however, it is generally used for reinvestment locally and for community improvements such as playgrounds and needed equipment like garbage trucks.”
Athabasca Basin Development’s value has grown tremendously since its inception in 2002, and three of its investments have appeared on SaskBusiness Magazine’s Top 100 list. ABD itself was within the top 50 in 2012. ABD and its investments collectively employ over 1000 people, many of whom are Aboriginal. “One of the things we look for in a potential investment is a commitment to Aboriginal engagement,” Kristy notes. The number of Aboriginal employees does vary among locations; for example, some sites have over 90% Aboriginal employees while other sites have none. ABD itself has only six employees, of which three are Aboriginal people.“All of our investments are committed to hiring Athabasca residents and Aboriginal people wherever possible, and many have invested in training programs that provide transferable skills to help employees obtain meaningful employment beyond our companies,” says Kristy. “Through the years, our investments have been transitional employers for many. For example, in the last three years, clients have hired over 100 Athabasca employees working at Points Athabasca for long term positions.”
“We are proud to support our communities, and the cornerstone of our donations strategy is to focus on initiatives that benefit the Athabasca communities. For example, last year, we were able to make our largest ever donation – $249,000 to help bring cellular towers to the North. We are also involved in local development corporation boards, tours taking various representatives to the region, and involvement in the Northern Business Task Force through the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.”