Residents of the Boundary Region are getting their chance to have a say in what the economy will look like now and for decades to come.
Economic development consultants from Lochaven Consulting, as well as members of Community Futures Boundary, have been touring the region getting input from residents and explaining how the Economic Diversification Plan will help invigorate all the communities. They made a stop in Grand Forks on Thursday afternoon outside of The Wooden Spoon to get input on what the positives of living in the region are and what people would like to see improved or added.
Their tour includes Grand Forks, Greenwood, Midway, Regional District Kootenay Boundary electoral areas C/Christina Lake, D/Rural Grand Forks and Area E.
The talks are the early stages of a project to create a plan that will benefit all communities, creating a network of opportunities and supporting business diversification, said Wayne Robert, economic development consultant. He and Nick Schmidt, working with the Village of Midway and Community Futures Boundary are doing pop-up talks and business walks as a soft launch as they get the project started.
One thing they do want to make clear is this isn’t about replacing one industry for another, he said. Even through they are looking at supporting businesses that may be impacted by a mill closure, they are trying to create a plan that will support all businesses and in turn, support the communities they operate in.
“We are engaging private citizens and businesses on two things, specifically; what they would like to see come out of the plan, outcomes and results, and what are the assets that we should be capitalizing on in our communities to strengthen the economy,” Robert said.
While they talk about diversification, it’s not about abandoning one industry for another, it’s about adding more to it so when one part of the economy may be suffering, the other ones are buoyant enough to support the rest of the economy.
One key positive that has come out of talks so far is resiliency and keeping local communities vibrant, said Robert. No one wants to see people forced to leave if parts of the local economy slumps. This also leads to communities supporting each other’s local strengths, such as agriculture, tourism and entrepreneurship. People are keen to see local governments help new and emerging businesses grow in their own backyards, he said.
Among some of the positive aspects of supporting potential local economics includes the trail systems, agriculture – specifically fruit production – lakes and rivers and cost of living.
“We’ve talked to about 150 people so far and what we are hearing is a point of pride for the communities we live in,” Robert said. “For us, that is a precondition for success in economic development because people can be gifted the same assets, but use them differently.”
While people are concerned with commodities-based economics, like lumber, they are also optimistic about the ability to work together to solve problems and build new opportunities.
It has been made possible by funding from the Province of BC through the Rural Economic Diversification and Infrastructure Program (REDIP).
The next steps for the team is a deeper analysis with one-on-one interviews and online surveys for businesses and people. From this, they will develop two plans, one that is Midway-centric surrounding businesses impacted by Vaagen Fibre Canada’s closure, then a Boundary-wide plan incorporating all.
Doug McMynn, Mayor of the Village of Midway said he is optimistic about the partnership and the plan in a news release.
“This collaboration and the development of this plan is an important and exciting initiative for Midway and the Boundary region,” he said. “It’s a testament to our resilience and our determination to always seek opportunities to better our region.”
Sarah Dinsdale, Economic Development Coordinator for Community Futures Boundary stated they are all committed to gauging and pooling the region’s collective strengths and insights so they can create a plan for a prosperous and sustainable future.