by Jan McMurray, Valley Voice Newspaper

The Slocan Valley will have an economic development strategy by the end of April. Consultants Dale Wheeldon and Colleen Bond were in the valley the week of February 20 to gather public input for the strategy. They conducted three public meetings (in Silverton, Passmore and Slocan) and met with a wide range of stakeholders, including representatives from arts and culture, youth, business (including home-based and farmers), Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Commission, local investment and funding organizations, Slocan Valley Senior’s Housing Society, Community Futures, WorkBC, Arrow & Slocan Lakes Community Services, WE Graham Community Services, environmental stewardship groups, heritage groups, trails groups, etc.

They also met with the project steering committee, which is made up of senior staff and one elected official from each local government in the valley (Villages of New Denver, Silverton, Slocan and Area H). An online survey was available for residents to complete, as well.

All of the input gathered at these meetings, the survey results, and the consultants’ review of previous economic development studies in the valley will inform the economic development strategy. Wheeldon said the strategy will cover the entire valley but may include some community-specific recommendations. He also said that the strategy will contain only achievable, realistic goals.

Who will be responsible for the implementation of the strategy?
Wheeldon and Bond will be recommending an organizational structure toward the end of March to help answer this question. The four organizational models they presented were an economic development department of a local government, an economic development committee, an economic development corporation (often owned by the local government),or a service contract between the local governments and an organization such as a Chamber of Commerce or Community Futures.

At the public meetings, Wheeldon gave a presentation that included a short video about the town of Warner, Alberta, where they started a hockey school to recruit youth and save their public school. “I like to play that video because economic development doesn’t have to be the big things,” Wheeldon said in Silverton. “Look at your community assets and see how your community can be sustainable.” Economic development doesn’t have a set definition, Wheeldon said. “It has to be defined by the community, and every community is unique in how they define it.” However economic development is defined, Wheeldon said some of the results of healthy economies are an increased tax base, improved local infrastructure, job creation, business retention and expansion, diversification, self sufficiency, productive use of property, and a better quality of life.

Wheeldon also provided a list of the top trends in economic development today. The first one was economic development marketing. “You need a good website,” he said. “You need to tell your community story, and a website does that.” He added that the Imagine Kootenay website is the best one he has ever seen.

The second top trend was business retention and expansion (BR&E). “You have to keep what you have. You have to work with your businesses and keep them here.” Wheeldon described BR&E as “the number one priority for economic development in North America.” Other trends included focusing on smaller wins, sector development (i.e. heritage, tourism), a resident attraction program, communications (so that
everyone is working together and your needs are being communicated), entrepreneurship (keeping youth in the community), regional partnerships, and tourism (particularly as a way to attract new residents).

People in attendance at the meetings were invited to write down their answers to questions at three stations around the room, and to show support for other people’s answers with stickers. Questions were about the strengths and challenges of the region, potential new opportunities, quality of life, enhancing opportunities for agriculture and tourism, and ways to support existing businesses and new entrepreneurs.

The Slocan Valley Economic Development Strategy planning phase is being funded by the provincial Rural Dividend program. At the Silverton meeting, Richard Toperczer of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, Skills Training and Responsible for Labour explained that he started the discussion about economic development with Slocan Valley local governments about a year ago. The local governments agreed to work together on a strategy, and to apply to the Rural Dividend program to hire a consultant and a ‘community liaison,’ a local person to assist in the process. Rebecca Sargeant and Jessica Rayner of New Denver are sharing the part-time community liaison position. Dale Wheeldon and Colleen Bond of Economic Development Community Development Consulting were hired to lead the process.