Local economic forums set to start

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The first local test of the B.C. government’s jobs plan begins Thursday in the North Fraser region, with community leaders from Mission, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows gathering to identify the projects most likely to generate employment quickly.

Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell is convening the first pilot project for what he calls the “Mackenzie model,” referring to the turnaround of the community north of Prince George that was hit hard by the forest industry downturn.

“What we did in Mackenzie was have everyone in the room, local economic development officers, key ministry individuals, the chamber of commerce, union leaders, First Nations, everyone was there,” Bell said in an interview. “We identified what the key initiatives were that could have a positive economic impact on the community and who would take responsibility for each element of it.”

Two other regions have been chosen for pilot projects to begin in January, Campbell River and the Barriere-to-McBride corridor on Highway 5 north of Kamloops. The three areas represent the range of small to medium to larger urban centres as well as Coastal, Vancouver Island and Interior regions.

They were chosen not only for their locations but because they showed they have done groundwork to prepare them, Bell said. For example, the Barriere region has identified independent power projects, a ski development and agri-tourism projects that locals believe could be advanced immediately.

“I think we need to demonstrate success quickly,” Bell said. “We need to show people that when you collaborate, when you work together, when you use this new kind of format of economic development, that it can achieve results in short order.”

He noted that the areas represent a mix of NDP and B.C. Liberal political representation, and their selection was due to their readiness to begin rather than their political leanings.

The first meeting will identify a core group of people to lead the effort, and the selection of a list of proposed projects for further study. By the end of January, the North Fraser group should have a short list of projects to focus on.

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