Smoky River Regional Economic Development
Alberta is in a most unusual state. While our province has certainly seen its downturn in the economy in the past few decades, I can’t recall one as rough as this one. Alberta has, even in previous bad times, usually led the country in terms of job creation, value of development projects and population growth.
And Alberta is going into debt – big debt.
That is no longer the case. Other provinces are seeing greater economic growth, many proposed developments have been put on hold or stopped completely and many workers in Alberta have returned to their home provinces due to losing their jobs.
For people working in the economic development field it is a challenging time. Many industries are facing new challenges with increased corporate taxes, a carbon tax, increased minimum wages, and less available income for Albertans to spend. The Alberta government also has less available dollars due to the low price of oil, making it harder for community groups to find grants to build projects like the Falher Splash Park.
The impact is wide. Many not-for-profits rely on working Casinos to raise operational funds and industry sponsorship to support projects and build infrastructure. I suspect Casinos are feeling the pinch with people having less disposable income to spend gambling, which impacts the amount of money not-for-profits will make working them.
With industry feeling the pinch, sponsorship dollars are also becoming harder to find. That means everything from community infrastructure projects to kid’s sports tournaments, to local events such as the Smoky River Agricultural Fair will have greater challenges in pulling off events and hopefully at least breaking even.
Add to that that many businesses will not have the resources, either money or staff, to work at a booth, could spell hard time for events like the Smoky River Agricultural Fair. I hope I am wrong. It’s a great event that pulls together the region and in addition to its value as an economic driver, it is also a great opportunity for the community to get together.
I am not blaming the Alberta government for the decline in oil prices. I am however, hoping they are looking at the social and health related impacts to small rural communities because of the economic crisis we are dealing with.
I’ve never been unemployed, but I can guess its not a happy time in someone’s life. I have lived in communities during tough times and I can relate to a depressed emotional aura in a community when they lose many of their local cultural and community events due to lack of dollars.
Community events are an essential component of the social fabric that makes up a community. They are critical in creating a sense of community and a positive attitude. McLennan recently held their home-based business fair. As important as the fair was to raise community awareness of the businesses with the Town, as essential as the fair was to generate revenue for the businesses, the fair was equally important in creating a positive atmosphere in the region.
Many of the government’s policies directly impact rural Alberta, most often in a negative fashion. Whether it is carbon tax, closure of coal mines, Bill 6, increase minimum wage, yes this impacts all Albertans, but I would argue the impact is far greater in rural communities such as ours.
I am not anticipating the government will change their minds on their initiatives, but I do hope they are looking at the social and health impacts of these decisions on the Albertans that are being impacted by those decisions.
The loss of a job, or many jobs in a region, the loss of programs that help build the community fabric and the lack of assistance to communities, and the people who live there, impacted most by these decisions will have real consequences. Let’s hope the government is working on policies and programs to address these consequences and help our rural municipalities rebuild their sense of community.