Small groups can do great things

Economic development is a hot topic in this year's municipal elections, so I thought I'd share a model I have some experience with.

Economic development is a hot topic in this year’s municipal elections in the valley, so I thought I’d share a model that I have some experience with for others to give some thought to.

In the West Kootenay, specifically Trail and the Kootenay Boundary Regional District (KBRD), there is a group of community-minded individuals collectively called the Lower Columbia Community Development Team (LCCDT). They originally got together in 2002 in order to drive specific projects in the area.

The area involved is similar to the local one in that five municipalities and a regional district direct a small geographic region. In the Columbia Valley I see three municipalities and a regional district: Radium Hot Springs, Invermere, Canal Flats and the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK). I understand there are some that may or may not include Canal Flats in the economic development of the region; that is another question for another day.

I’m not positive on how many individuals were involved with the LCDDT originally, but I do know the team was made up of a representative from each of the local governments along with several business people from the area. They included representatives from Selkirk College, Columbia Basin Trust, Teck, etc. They are now described as a society consisting of municipal politicians, business leaders and representatives from many agencies, organizations and groups with an interest in social and economic development in the Lower Columbia region.

I was a member of this group made up of many committees, each devoted to the development of a different area of interest. Some of these committees were: Attainable Housing, Energy, Health and Hospital, Tourism, Workforce Renewal, Transportation. As the chair of the Transportation committee I led a group working to encourage discussions on both side of the Canadian/American border to construct a low elevation corridor linking Spokane to the Trans Canada highway and beyond to the inland hub of Prince George, thus linking the port in Prince Rupert all the way to the Mississippi valley. Sounds grandiose? Perhaps, but we believed if you don’t dream it, it won’t happen.

This is only part of the story from the LCDDT, its roots so to speak. Two years ago, when I was still a member of the team, the decision was reached that, in order to proceed it was necessary to procure funding and lots of it. There is only so much a committee of volunteers can do, although this group had just completed raising $785,000 to build the heliport at the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital. After extensive investigation it was decided to birth a non-profit society to allow the organization to enter into legal contracts and hire employees.  This has led to the hiring of an executive director who works for the non-profit society, now called the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation (LCIC). Here is a quote from the LCIC website: “With direction and recommendations from the LCCDT, LCIC undertakes programs and projects designed to grow and diversify the local economy by attracting new business, retention and expansion of existing businesses and actively supporting and leading on priority initiatives, projects and programs that have been identified as regional economic drivers. We strive to stimulate and facilitate sustainable economic development within these communities to create a strong, vibrant, and diverse regional economy that supports community development, growth, and economic prosperity.”

See what can happen when a smallish group of like-minded individuals put their collective heads together and decide something needs to be done for the overall benefit of the community they live in? It all started with a few people taking part in a monthly ‘congress’ meeting, as they called it in the beginning.

It would seem to me that the Columbia Valley or Windermere Valley or whatever we choose to call ourselves could benefit from a similar structure. How can that happen? It’s going to take a handful of motivated, entrepreneurial and visionary people to say, “Let’s get this party started!” Once there are key people recognized, the ball will start rolling and the sky will be the limit.

Perhaps it’s time for a re-read of Dr. Suess’ Oh The Places You’ll Go! As I recall, success is 98 and three quarters guaranteed!

Marilyn Berry is publisher of The Valley Echo.