Regional economic development service questioned

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
November 18th, 2010

Two years after the reformation of the regional economic development service some directors are questioning if the committee’s work is going in the right direction. After hearing grumblings about the services overseen by the Boundary Economic Development Committee (BEDC), Chair and Regional Director for Area C, Grace McGregor, said they decided to clear the air at their November meeting including inviting the entire Grand Forks city council to attend.   McGregor opened the floor to discussion after an overview of the work done by the BEDC. Challenges to the committee’s work were posed by Grand Forks city councillors and by Bill Baird, area E director and committee member.   Grand Forks councillors presented concerns over communications between the regional and local levels, and governance issues. They questioned processes used for certain projects under the BEDC such as the regional branding, past tourism initiatives, and the current agricultural plan development that may not have been inclusive of local residents and have had less than satisfactory results.   “I think communications is really one of the issues – information coming to us. With regards to branding and the website, I though until a couple of months ago that Roger Brooks (who came to the area over a year ago to consult) was the branding man,” questioned Councillor Joy Davies. “The fact that it went for two years and we didn’t understand that all he was to do was facilitate a workshop is a communication problem. My question is: where did the money go? How much was spent on Roger Brooks? Why are we dealing with Americans when we have a whole country that we could be dealing with?”   Baird criticized the high level of efforts being placed on tourism and the regional chamber at the table. He has been looking at the feasibility of hiring an independent person for economic development in the West Boundary. While he doesn’t feel he is ready to completely break away from the group, he called into question the ability of the service to respond to critical barriers to business in the area.   “The biggest problem I see in the way we are organized and structured is that (the current staff), its not their field of expertise in many areas,” said Baird. “We had the astronomical of Canada who wanted to put in a telescope, so, once again, if they didn’t spend so much time on tourism they would drop what they’re doing and go out with these people. I’m not criticizing this group for what they’re doing, but these are the concerns of my area. We don’t have a presence out there. I don’t want to break this up.”   Marguerite Rotvold, Midway city councillor and chair of the regional district, suggested that the committee could prioritize agriculture and have more of an industrial focus, but she stressed the importance of working together at the regional level. “We’re trying to get a regional process, not individual communities. I would like to see it continue as a regional process,” said Rotvold.   Greenwood City Councillor Christopher Stevenson also supported the regional focus as a key place to resolve local problems. “This is the only table that the region comes together in a formal way. So if this is gone then there is no place for us to discuss our issues,” said Stevenson. “One of the challenges that we have is that we come together specifically over economic development but because this is the only place that we do come together there’s all these things that creep in. We stick to our mandate as best we can but there’s so many things going on at a regional level. We don’t have anywhere else we come together as a region and I think that’s a problem.”   McGregor was not satisfied leaving questions in the air at the end of the meeting. She directly asked for, and received, the support of the City of Grand Forks to continue to participate in the economic services. “I think it’s so important to do stuff regionally that I’m willing to hang in there,” she added.   Baird will be making a decision on his budgets within the next couple of months, and is unsure on how he will proceed. Grand Forks council renewed their commitment to participate with the regional group.

The BEDC has representatives from every community and area in the Boundary. They do an annual plan to prioritize work and the approved plans are the activities for the year. Currently economic development services are contracted from the regional district to Community Futures Boundary who has requested a five-year commitment from the region starting in 2011.