Partnerships, leadership cited as keys to North Kootenay economic growth

·5 min read

The North Kootenay Lake region is going to need strong leadership and good communication if it is going to overcome barriers to economic growth, a new report on the region’s economic development says.

The report, ‘Community Economic Development Strategy: Co-ordinated Leadership’ by Factor Five consultants was released earlier this month after more than a year of study, consultation, and research – with a pandemic thrown into the middle that took researchers in different directions.

“A strong, resilient economy is vital to the quality of life of the residents, workforce and visitors in North Kootenay Lake,” the report says. “How the economy changes over the next ten years will affect all facets of the community, including the types of jobs, local business and investment opportunities, and the movement of goods and people to and from North Kootenay Lake.

“It is critical to proactively steer the direction of these changes to shape a future that reflects the aspirations of the people.”

To do that, the report says its goal is to focus on the development of a long-term community economic development strategy in consultation with local and regional partners, supported by dedicated staff.

That strategy is “intended to provide a lens through which the [Kaslo and Area D Economic Development] Commission can lead economic development in a way that is deeply rooted in North Kootenay Lake values, responds to the unique challenges of the current pandemic and builds the long-term capacity of the community.”

Customizing need

The report says the strategy they’ve come up with hinges on an ongoing problem.

“Local businesses and organizations need market intelligence to confidently expand and innovate in the marketplace, while governments readily fund market studies that all too often sit on shelves,” the report says.

The goal of the strategy, then, is to customize those studies to the specific needs of local businesses, and provide them with support to turn theory into action.

Good information will allow local business to see just how big their markets are, and if it makes sense to them to expand to meet what demand actually exists. Determining this ‘economy of scale’ is one of the big hindrances to local business at this time, the report says.

The result of better communication and information “will be vibrant, successful local businesses and organizations that thrive by solving local and regional problems through economies of scale that match the size of the market,” the authors say.

Partnership

To tackle this problem, the Economic Development Commission and local Chamber of Commerce are joining forces, each playing a “crucial and distinct role” in the execution of the strategy. The Commission should hire an economic development coordinator to provide “timely, relevant and customized market studies to identify economies of scale,” the authors say.

The coordinator’s work would include arranging workshops for businesses, writing grants, planning projects, doing surveys and raising public awareness. For its part, the Chamber would communicate with local business to determine priorities and needs, conduct business surveys and provide support to implement strategies.

“Success of the Coordinated Leadership Strategy will build the capacity of the Chamber to play a vibrant role in the business community, foster collaboration between local, regional and provincial organizations and empower local businesses and organizations to solve community problems,” the report predicts.

That would bring businesses and organizations the capacity to respond to economic changes “leading to economic resilience in the face of adversity and self-reliance that fosters community prosperity.”

The Columbia Basin Trust is seen as a key partner in helping finance the initiatives, and the report points out CBT’s five-year plan outlines several goals that are aligned with the strategy. Other important players include the local community forest society, Kaslo infoNet, the Kaslo Food Hub, local tourism, and regional community development groups, like the Lardeau Valley Opportunity Links Society.

“The key to success in North Kootenay Lake is working together to turn shared problems into shared solutions through community-led economies of scale,” the authors say.

Values and barriers

“As a small community composed of hamlets dispersed around a village, the capacity to lead economic development activities is limited, requiring carefully targeted use of resources,” the authors say.

The unstable power grid, small labour market, limited housing, competition between organizations for funding, and overall capacity are other nagging issues in the region.

However, the report also says they heard time and again from participants about local community values that can be tapped for growth. Those values include resilience, self-reliance, community, and natural beauty.

“It is important that economic development activities focus on these values, and attract investment, residents and visitors that share them so that North Kootenay Lake flourishes while maintaining the integrity of what makes it so special,” the authors say.

First steps

The report outlines what has to be done to keep it from gathering dust on a shelf. It recommends hiring a community economic development coordinator for stewarding the strategy; engaging key local partners and building both the Commission and the Chamber of Commerce’s effective membership; and helping local partners with planning that’s in line with the strategy, and working with funding partners on shared priorities.

Some action has already been taken to implement the strategy. Earlier this month, funding was announced for three projects: a digital marketing and e-commerce adoption project to get more local businesses online; a secure supply chain project to help business with procurement issues as they arise; and an ‘agriculture capacity incubation project’ to provide farmers and entrepreneurs with the necessary community facilities and business supports to grow, harvest, preserve, store, prepare and distribute food.

The Economic Development Commission received just over $197,000 from the Province’s Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP) to implement the three projects.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice