Many rural communities want to reverse population decline and reduce their local economy’s dependence on agriculture.
A team of municipalities in Manitoba’s Parkland have a “how-to” plan for tackling the job.
The five municipalities in the Russell area began working together on economic development a decade ago and formed the Asessippi Parkland Economic Development Corporation.
The pooled resources of the five entities have also allowed them to offer a broader range of services, including bursaries for local youths learning a trade and planning to live in the region; a loan program; and business development advice for local enterprises. It also fosters mentor-ship opportunities and provides settlement support to newcomers.
The corporation has also undertaken a number of branding and marketing initiatives to promote the region as a place to live, farm and start businesses, and have secured federal funding for Russell’s ambitious, long-term Main Street revitalization project. (Along with the town of Russell, the corporation serves the rural municipalities of Russell, Silver Creek and Shellmouth-Boulton as well as the village of Binscarth.)
Together they form a strong lobby for the region, and they attribute their success in attracting grant funding to being a larger entity, economic development officer Marcia Rowat told attendees at the Manitoba Farm Women’s conference.
As a partnership of five, they’re able to do more than they could alone, she added.
“It’s allowed us to take some calculated risks.”
They’re now seeing the benefits. There is considerable new residential and cottage development in the area, more tradespeople, a stable population, and more young families moving in. Russell’s Main Street restoration continues with its long-term goal of being a diversified commercial district and regional draw for tourism.
The Asessippi Parkland, encompassing about 800 square miles of western Mani toba between Riding Mountain and Saskatchewan, is also seeing gains, said Rowat, adding the municipalities look for innovative solutions.
They were the first to sign a tax-sharing agreement that’s helped eliminate competition over attracting investment. The agreement returns a share of taxes gleaned from increased commercial growth towards economic development initiatives that benefit the entire region.