MARCH 6 ROUSING THE RABBLE: Economic development in the Grand Forks area

What does economic activity mean to Grand Forks Economic Development Advisory Committee?

The information package for the regular meeting of the Grand Forks city council on Jan. 21 contained an interesting report.

It’s titled, “Grand Forks Economic Development Advisory Committee (EADC) Strategic Planning Report for 2013,” prepared by John Singleton from Singleton Consulting Corporation, the facilitator for the planning session involving seven people, including two councillors, Gary Smith and Bob Kendel.

There were several reasons for meeting: clarifying strategies, defining a focus for the next two years, developing an understanding of the work of an economic advisory committee and how it might change the local situation, laying out a path for the city to follow, developing a clear picture of the end results of the committee’s work and clarifying the EDAC’s place among other community groups.

Residents of the region are likely to be most interested in the group’s response to the question, “What does economic development mean to this committee?”

A long list of answers was forthcoming and a few of them are: sustainable agriculture; be a locovore (100 kilometre user); grow it, process it, sell it here; reduce the economic leakage; create an economic base that grows; have all businesses non-polluting; build the population to 5,000 locally and 12,000 regionally; keep young families in the region through the provision of health care, education, lifestyle, technology, transportation and housing.

An essay by Brenda Crain found on the website Resilience.org bears the title “Opportunity is Local (Or: You can’t buy a new economy).”

Crain presents an interesting perspective on creating economic opportunities. Crain states, “Neighborhoods need to define their priorities for themselves; in so doing, they often discover that there are untapped opportunities to grow their own local economies, without needing to import talent from elsewhere.”

The late Jane Jacobs said, “The best cities are federations of great neighborhoods.”

Perhaps Grand Forks would be best to form a federation of neighbourhoods for there are several, yet they are ignored when it comes to the work of planning for its future.

The EDAC report should leave its readers wondering whether the committee asked the right critical questions

Why is an economic development advisory committee needed? Who is being advised?

What assumptions had each committee member made about the city before they began working together?

Why must the population of the city and region grow?

Why do young people not stay in the community?

Why is sustainable agriculture of such importance to the future of the city?

Why is the airport important to the city and region?

Why did the committee choose the term “revitalization” when the city council used the term “rejuvenation” during their planning session in January 2012.

What kind of city can we design and build that will fulfill the “revitalization” requirement?

The EDAC report can only be seen as the work of seven well-intentioned people, hardly enough to truly represent a broad cross-section of the community.

The EDAC report is a good start on a complex issue but it is far too broad in scope to be useful as a planning document although it contains many good ideas.

It is a good beginning but it is only the result of a one-day brainstorming session. Creating a workable plan with goals, objectives and strategies will require many more meetings.

Crain provides some good advice when she states, “To really grow an economy, opportunity has to be developed organically within each community, and that requires that people dig in and improve their neighborhoods, together, for the sake of doing so—not convincing Google to open a new office down the road.”

Such advice will be difficult to follow.

– Roy Ronaghan is a columnist for the Grand Forks Gazette