Big Lakes County drops Rural Stream

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Big Lakes County has dropped out of a government program created to attract immigrants to help local businesses fill job vacancies in rural regions.

At its regular meeting June 16, council passed a motion to remove themselves from the Rural Renewal Stream of the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program.

The motion also called for council to advise High Prairie town council of its decision.

Last fall, the region of High Prairie and Big Lakes County was recognized as a designated community under the Rural Renewal Stream of the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program.

However, county administration has discovered that the roles and responsibilities of the program are beyond their capacity, said Brett Hawken, director of community and protective services.

“Based on our preliminary meetings with both local businesses and Alberta Labour and Immigration workforce consultants, the workload described (to council at its meeting June 8, 2022) seemed feasible with in-house county administration capacity,” said Hawken.

“Unfortunately, it has been determined that the workload described in the June 8 request for decision is not the reality of the time committed to manage the program and the workload has increased tremendously due to the enormous amount of interest in the program.”

He added the administrative role would require about 10-15 hours of work a week.

“Administration does see the value this program has in our region if managed properly,” Hawken said.

“It has the potential to assist businesses in both Big Lakes County and High Prairie to fill jobs they have been struggling to fill.”

He noted 15 businesses – 12 in High Prairie and three in Big Lakes – are interested the program.

“It has become clear about the increased workload already at the infancy of this program; however, administration is not guaranteeing that one individual will be able to do this entire program due to the increased number of resumes that administration has already received,” Hawken said.

He suggested interested businesses approach the High Prairie and Area Chamber of Commerce.

About 10 interested business people attended a meeting April 5 at Big Lakes council chambers to discuss a proposal to hire an economic development officer to manage the program.

Big Lakes was managing the program at the time and proposed a full-time position to focus on the program at an estimated annual cost of $148,000.

The County also proposed that businesses contribute to the program as Hawken suggested a cap of $5,000 as a point of discussion.

Many at the meeting expressed concern about the estimated cost to manage the program and agreed it may be done through the chamber of commerce.

Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk said at the meeting the scope and costs of the program have grown since council first learned about it.

“We’ve got to find a way to make this work and not cost ratepayers a lot and help businesses,” Panasiuk said.

He noted he knows some people in the community who have experience in immigration and government administration who would be ideal resources to assist in helping a local program.

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