Reflecting on what the SRRED has done, and what it can do for the region

Dan Dibbelt
Smoky River Regional Economic Development
Every once in awhile, Diane and I are asked by someone what exactly has Smoky River Regional Economic Development (SRRED) accomplished.

There is no new shiny Walmart in the region, we don’t have a value-added agricultural processing plant setting up shop and the region’s population has not had a sudden dynamic boom.

The region is plugging along, trying to diminish the damage from the low oil prices, trying to determine the impact a carbon tax and an increase in minimum wage will have on our region, and trying to keep the status quo until the oil industry returns.

It is tough to encourage economic development in a small, sparsely populated rural region. The chain retailers want communities with tens of thousands of populations. They want communities located on major thoroughfares where thousands of people stop everyday. They want guarantees of high profits.

Rural communities tend to create development from within. Smaller communities tend nurture entrepreneurs from within local people who have lived in the community for a long time and have no plans on leaving. And these communities tend build investment for developments from within the communities.

Small rural communities rely on local visionaries who believe in the community they live in and are willing to take a financial risk and invest in a local business or opportunity. An investor looking to come to a smaller community often will question why no one from within the community is willing to invest.

Recently, prior to the drop in the economy, we were working with a condo developer looking at setting up a 12-unit condo apartment. The developer wanted eight units sold before he would consider developing the property. After the oil drop – he wanted all units sold.

It is the simple reality of small rural community economic development. The SRRED has worked on numerous projects in the last couple years. We have worked with investors from India looking to set up a value-added agriculture facility.

We have worked with housing manufactures, we have worked with Alberta Transportation on road projects and we’ve worked with investors across the province, hoping to attract them.

Are we discouraged? No, not really. I have always seen an economic development department as being like a fire department. Just because you don’t have a fire for a couple years doesn’t mean you get rid of the fire department.

The truth is SRRED should be proud of what has been achieved. It is through SRRED’s work that we were able to ensure Northern Lakes College has stayed in the region. When we were at risk of losing the satellite dental clinic in McLennan, the SRRED rallied the region and fought to ensure it remained here.

The SRRED has helped many small businesses develop business plans, we have helped some with marketing ideas and we have provided information to other businesses so they could justify their business plan and get a bank loan.

Numerous people received business counselling advice. Not all opened a business, nor should they. Our goal is not to have the highest number of business attempts; it is to have the highest number of businesses successes.

We have met with provincial elected leaders to ensure they are aware of our regions challenges and opportunities. We have worked with various government departments to ensure we are on their radar, just in case the right opportunity comes along.

The SRRED has attended trade shows to promote our region. We have attended school career fairs to encourage our local youth to strive for a good education and a successful career.

We work to ensure a positive attitude in the region; after all, economic development is as much a state of mind as a physical structure.

Having a positive attitude about your community and its future makes a difference. It is easy to get discouraged when we don’t see rapid development in our community.

We need to remind ourselves that quality of life is as much of an economic indicator as new developments.

The Smoky River region has a lot going for it and perhaps one of the most important assets is that the people here are always looking for opportunity. I know SRRED has projects on its plate that it continues to plug away at. And I know if we give up, our region will decline rapidly.

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