In 1971, when the James Bay Region Development Act was adopted, the Société de développement de la Baie-James (SDBJ) was established to develop the region’s full economic potential and enable its people to enjoy the benefits of this development.
The SDBJ, which falls under the responsibility of the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, oversees a vast territory of over 350,000 square kilometers, covering 42 per cent of the Nord-du-Québec region (or 23 per cent of Québec). Together, two groups of citizens call this area home— Crees and Jamesians (nonCrees)—for a total population of 29,420.
The sheer size of the territory, also known as Eeyou Istchee, presents many challenges, and is also the source of its opportunities. With offices in Matagami, Chibougamau and Radisson, the SDBJ’s presence in the various towns enables it to identify and understand their distinctive characteristics, which is essential to effectively developing and diversifying the region’s economy.
Its mission—to promote, from a sustainable development perspective, the economic development, improvement and exploitation of natural resources other than hydroelectric resources—has ushered in an era of significant progress by continuing to invest in the region and thereby contribute to the sustainability and growth of the territory’s resources.
SDBJ has also made a $5.5 million investment in the first two years of its actual development plan in non-mining businesses. “Our volume of activity will be $44.5million dollars globally in 2020,” says SDBJ CEO Alain Coulombe, up from $31 million in 2016.
“The SDBJ uses it many talents and creativity to create value through all its activities and then reinvests this created value into the region for the benefit of its population,” says Coulombe.
For its 45 years in existence, the SDBJ’s mission has always been to foster, support and participate in the implementation of projects that promote the environmental and cultural values of the Cree. Many of these projects in the 21st century orbit around infrastructure management.
“This pertains to the road network and airport,” says Coulombe. “We have a 5-year, $265 million program with the government of Quebec. The refurbishment of the James Bay highway will improve the safety and efficiency of transport logistics in the north.” The project covers all 620 kilometres of James Bay Road, over half of which will be resurfaced.
With over two thousand kilometres of road network under management for two main clients, the Ministry of Transportation and Hydro-Québec, this will provide better access to a number of development projects in the region.”
The SDBJ is committed to reinvesting all profits from this project back into the local communities. “I’m proud to say that we are well above eighty percent for local employment,” say Coulombe. “Where we can give contracts to local companies, we do. We invest in local businesses and also seek to improve our regional businesses to become more competitive in the market.”
Coulombe says the local economy is “very strong” and “centres on natural resources, “with communities growing more and more local, internally-generated business.
New opportunities are arising all the time. For instance, the potential use of forest biomass as well as second and third lumber processing projects must be emphasised. The SDBJ is very proud of contributing to the recommissioning of the Lebel-sur-Quévillon paper-mill. It is now a locally-owned plant that employs a lot of young people and is very competitive in the market.
In its 2018– 2020 development plan, SDBJ stated it “places great value on the social and economic progress of each of the towns, municipalities and communities that make up its area of intervention, and on their cultural characteristics and the development opportunities they may offer. The corporation’s various business practices help stimulate the creation of wealth in the region, whether as direct economic spinoffs from its many activities or as the investments it carries out with its partners.”
“In recent years, SDBJ has been able to significantly improve its financial capabilities and strengthen its relationships with its regional and government partners. We have already initiated a number of actions designed to help bring about strategic projects for the region and we intend to pursue our efforts in this direction.,” said SDBJ Board Chairman Gaston Bédard.