Regional district approves action plan

Economic Development Action Plan to build economic capacity.

The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) approved the Regional Economic Development Action Plan during a board of director’s meeting on Oct. 23.

The action plan will provide “clear strategic directions toward the diversification and expansion of the local economy,” according to Bill Miller, Director of Area B for the RDBN.

The action plan is intended to ensure long-term economic prosperity, as well as to enhance the region as a great place to live, work and visit. This plan is based on the premise that enhancing the quality of life of its residents would help attract and retain workers, offering all residents, communities and businesses an opportunity to prosper.

“The regional district will implement actions that will encourage entrepreneurship, attract investment into the region, achieve greater economic impact from the tourism industry, provide tools to respond to large resource projects and a response to labour skills shortage,” said Miller.

In order to develop this plan, the RDBN heard the voices of local businesses and community leaders to identify the needs and priorities of the region. Community forums were held across the region including Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, Fraser Lake, Burns Lake, Smithers, Telkwa, Houston and Granisle. A draft of the proposed plan was first introduced to the RDBN’s board of directors by Millier Dickinson Blais, an economic development consulting firm, on Oct. 9, 2014. The board requested a few changes to the proposed plan and these changes were later incorporated and approved on Oct. 23.

According to Miller, the most important element of this action plan has been the involvement of stakeholders, First Nations and other community members to make sure that the plan builds economic capacity across the region.

“It is very important that we don’t overlap and expend our limited resources needlessly,” he said.

Miller said the regional district wants to develop a “diversified economy that is not dependent on the commodity prices of the resource sector.” One way to do this would be by building on opportunities in sectors such as tourism and agriculture, as well as investing in “large energy projects” and ensuring the “technical infrastructure is in place” in terms of broadband coverage and cellphone networks. Making these changes would attract entrepreneurs who would be interested in the quality of life that Bulkley-Nechako offers to its residents, according to Miller.

“To encourage growth in the economy of the region as a whole, it is important to find connections between the communities to link them in terms of labour force, transportation, sector development, businesses and community services,” he said.

The action plan has been grouped into three strategic directions –  getting the conditions right, growing the economy, and diversifying the economy – as well as a series of actions and timelines to implement these directions.

The first strategic direction, getting the conditions right, includes actions that are necessary to encourage the growth of businesses in the RDBN. The second strategic direction, growing the economy, includes actions that will help strengthen existing companies and sectors to encourage their growth and development. The third strategy, diversifying the economy, is supported by actions that promote new opportunities in traditional sectors or in new sectors, with a focus on investment attraction.

The timeline set for the Regional Economic Development Action Plan extends from 2015 to 2018. The public can learn more about the plan by visiting www.rdbn.bc.ca/economicdevelopment. A communications strategy has been included to assist with keeping the public up to date on its progress.