Diamond conference a success
Could be the start of something greater

Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 06/98) - Proponents of a secondary diamond industry in Yellowknife have nothing but rave reviews for Sunday's diamond conference.

Garth Malakoe, president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, said the conference went better than he expected.

"I knew there was an interest out there, but I didn't realize the extent of the interest," said Malakoe on Tuesday.

"Just to have them (major diamond players) here and to hear them talk and to see the way they're sort of attacking the city ... they're going out, meeting people and they're doing their feasibility studies and talking to BHP and doing all the things I thought six months ago would never happen."

When the city started exploring secondary diamond industry possibilities, Malakoe thought Yellowknife would become the next Antwerp.

Now that he's been to Antwerp with the Diamond Industry Development Task Force and attended the Sunday conference, he has tempered his expectations.

"I see us growing to a place where there's a lot of knowledge and lot of activity. I see that happening in the long term. What I see happening right away is one or two of these cutters and polishers making a deal with BHP and making a deal with the government with some type of incentive," said Malakoe.

"Setting up shop and proving whether or not it's possible and once that happens to see than expand. It's not going to start with a 500-man factory. It's going to start with and 20 or 30-man factory."

Yellowknife Centre MLA Jake Ootes said the conference came at the right time, just as BHP decides where it will build its sorting and valuation facility.

"It sends a message to BHP that we are very serious community and we want that facility here," he said.

The conference also brought together key players in the industry already in the cutting and polishing business. These people at the conference boosted spirits when they said they were interested in setting up shop in Yellowknife.

"They also had the opportunity to tell us what the pitfalls are of this business and what the opportunities are and what we need to do to respond," said Ootes.

Many of the players spoke with Ootes to find out what is needed to set up shop in the North.

From the conference, Ootes is optimistic about the future of Yellowknife in the secondary diamond industry.

He said if one or two companies get access to the NWT's rough diamonds, other companies will likely follow and Yellowknife could very well become the diamond capital of North America.

"It's not going to happen overnight but it could happen over a five-year period," he said.

At the city's committee of the whole meeting on Monday aldermen present at the conference said they enjoyed the gathering.

"The attitude of guests was optimism all the way," said Ald. Cheryl Best.

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