If people have ideas on what is called ‘economic development’ it usually goes along the lines of asking, say, three farmers a simple question – What is the best way to farm? The story goes, you will usually get at least five opinions.
A high ranking politician in the Grande Prairie area once said of the best way to pursue ‘economic development.’
“You can’t do it. It just happens.”
Anybody who has really paid attention to the commercial and industrial growth north of that city has to be amazed. It hasn’t been all gravy either. Like any oil town, Grande Prairie has been through booms and busts the past 50 years.
And sure, a lot of that maybe did ‘just happen.’
The ‘just happens’ idea still doesn’t stop politicians everywhere, from every level of government, wanting to beat the drum of growth, development and enterprise. As one former Peace country mayor is fond of saying, “If you are standing still, you are actually going backwards.”
So, governments look at their communities big and small. Growth is deemed to be good. In fact, when you are desperate, any growth is good. Even a new sign on the side of a building has been touted some places as ‘things are happening.’
And if you are hardly getting that, well, ‘time to hire an economic development officer.’
‘Chasing smokestacks’ is a phrase used to describe going after big industries or developments. Get a nuclear power plant, wind farm, Costco store or car factory. Fantastic. For most of our communities, even a new retailer or service outlet is a win.
Chasing big or little wins is a tough business. Instead, we’re a fan of the Five Pillars of a Community. In no order, those are Quality of Education and Health Care, Economic Opportunities, A Safe Community, and Recreation. Look after those and you have a nice place to live, grow, and raise a family.
And attractive for growth.
Variations on one of these themes showed up in Slave Lake recently. All could be called subsets of economic opportunities. In order, they are economic development. Business investment and labour attraction. Strengthening and supporting local business. Tourism.
One town councillor in Slave Lake, Ali Mouallem, said supporting local business should be moved up in importance. “The priority should be on supporting what is already here.”
Banks and credit unions, Community Futures, chambers of commerce, boards of trade and more actually do much in this area. It still should not be taken for granted a local car dealership, fast food outlet or convenience store will be here tomorrow.
This may not sound like a big deal seeing mega-growth like Grande Prairie. It is still almost always overlooked by politicians. Looking after what you already have is in fact, a very big deal.
New doctors. New stores. Another gas station. Higher education opportunities. A swimming pool. Ski and sled trails. More police and peace officers. You name it! More is great!
But it should never be at the expense of losing cherished, and even not-so cherished amenities and businesses you already have.