Slave Lake ready to lend High Prairie a helping hand

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

A program recently ditched by the Town of High Prairie and Big Lakes County may soon be revived.

The Town of Slave Lake’s manager of communications and economic development, Jason Swanson, told High Prairie town council at its meeting Jan. 9 they can provide help to administer the Rural Renewal Stream program, operated by the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program.

For an annual fee of $10,000.

The program is designed to attract immigrants to help local businesses fill job vacancies in rural regions.

In the fall of 2022, High Prairie and Big Lakes County were recognized as designated communities. However, both pulled out in July 2023 (Big Lakes at its June 16, 2023 meeting, High Prairie soon after,) citing excessive administration costs and time involved.

“Administration does not see the value this program has in our region if managed properly,” said Brett Hawken, director of community and protective services June 16, 2023. He has since left the County.

At the time he noted 15 businesses – 12 in HP and three in BLC – expressed interest in the program.

BLC also did a cost analysis and estimated the program cost to be $148,000 – a very far cry from Slave Lake’s $10,000 offer.

Swanson stressed that businesses must take the lead role in the program and only then would he assist. He added only he would decide if an application moved forward.

Swanson added if High Prairie joined, only businesses located within town borders would qualify. Big Lakes County businesses would have to convince their county council join to qualify. Invitations from Slave Lake to join have also been sent to the M.D. of Lesser Slave River, M.D. of Opportunity, and Big Lakes County.

There would be no cap on how many businesses Swanson could offer services to. Or extra fees.

Mayor Brian Panasiuk asked Swanson how quickly businesses could access the service, if accepted by the Alberta government. Swanson replied about one week and they could “hit the ground running”.

Suraj Patel owns three High Prairie businesses: Pharmasave, High Prairie Fitness, and The Park Theatre. He told town council the program would help his business address employment.

“The challenge that we face is stable employment,” Patel told council. “This creates more opportunity to bring people in.

“We are struggling (to hire) stable staff. It’s a very big challenge.”

He estimated employees brought in through the Rural Renewal Stream program would stay two years, and help avoid the revolving door of hiring people.

“We should be a part of this program,” Patel told council.

He added he spoke to other businesses who expressed support for the program including Boondocks, Tim Hortons, Dairy Queen and Pizza Hut.

Council will make a decision on whether to join at its next meeting, Swanson was told, before leaving.

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