After years of squabbles among regional directors, the Creston Valley could be poised to take a serious run at local economic development.
RDCK regional directors appear poised to announce the hiring of an employee to oversee economic development efforts and now Kootenay Employment Services has earned a BC Rural Dividend grant designed to “contribute to the strength and sustainability of small rural communities, making them more attractive places to live and work,” according to the province’s web site. The grant itself is for more than $287,000, and local partners will add to the total.
“The Rural Dividend Grant is indeed a good news story,” KES executive director Hugh Grant said last week. “As you know we currently don’t have an economic development mechanism at the district level. The Rural Dividend funding will establish the Creston & District Economic Action Partnership, a joint economic function for the communities that span all the way from Yahk to Riondel.”
Administered by the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the Rural Dividend is providing $25 million a year over three years to assist rural communities with populations under 25,000 to reinvigorate and diversify their economies.
“The proposal that lead to this funding was developed by KES with the support and collaboration of the Town of Creston, Regional Directors of Areas A,B,C, and the Lower Kootenay Band,” Grant said. “Each of these partners will be joining KES and the Province in contributing financially to this initiative. Our common goal is to move away from a fragmented, project-by-project approach to economic development in our area. What we want instead is an ambitious, well-coordinated approach that is focused on creating good local jobs and serving the community. The partners have identified that KES can provide the leadership to help make that happen.
“We will be using an innovative, but proven strategy, to accomplish our goal, bringing government, businesses, and non-profits together to bolster four target sectors of our local economy: primary/value added agriculture, primary/value added forestry, biofuel production, and tourism.
In the first two years, the focus will be on the agri-food sector. We will be building on recent local momentum, learning from successes in other parts of the world, and capitalizing on emerging market opportunities.”
The Rural Dividend is designed to tackle many of the issues local governments hear regularly from constituents. It is focused on supporting worthy projects that help rural communities navigate changes impacting their economies, such as attracting and retaining youth, using innovation to drive economic growth, and developing new and effective partnerships to support shared prosperity.
“You and I have lived here for a long time,” Grant said, “and I’ll bet you can’t remember there ever being such a broad collaborative economic development relationship. It is a huge accomplishment just to arrive at this point.
“This economic function is certainly going to be a challenge but with the strong foundation on which it was built and robust funding in place, I am confident we will build a healthy economy going forward.”