Input will serve as a blueprint for a vibrant rural Alberta

Rural Alberta contributes more than $77 billion annually to Alberta’s and Canada’s economy, and with smart planning

VERLYN OLSON

Rural Alberta contributes more than $77 billion annually to Alberta’s and Canada’s economy, and with smart planning and coordinated programs and services, rural Alberta will thrive.

The Rural Economic Development Action Plan is a new initiative designed to build on the significant efforts made in the past to support economic activity in rural Alberta. The goal is to ensure that rural communities continue to flourish.

An MLA task force including Hector Goudreau, Jacquie Fenske, Ken Lemke, Bridget Pastoor, and myself has been working to keep this initiative moving.

Earlier this spring, we held a series of stakeholder roundtable discussions in Athabasca, Fairview, Edson, Olds, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Vermilion and Camrose.

We talked, and mostly listened, to the suggestions from economic development organizations, area associations and citizens about how to best address the economic needs of our rural communities. We are all from rural Alberta and know the joys and challenges first-hand.

Stakeholders were asked for input and direction about how Alberta’s rural communities can build on five key areas: industry and business development; financial and capital access; workforce development; regional coordination; and economic infrastructure capacity.

We want to ensure that we have the right resources in place and that our current investments in rural communities are being spent wisely.

During the discussions, our stakeholders told us how essential it is for government, industry and communities to work together to ensure existing programs and services are coordinated so that they are delivered effectively and efficiently.

We also heard a successful Action Plan has to be grounded in a long-term vision for rural Alberta, and that the plan needs to recognize the unique circumstances in different regions of the province.

With those thoughts in mind, I challenged participants to think about what short term actions we can take today that would facilitate economic development, as well as what actions could yield long-term benefits for rural Alberta 30 years down the road. What are the “game-changers” that will help stimulate growth?

It was clear that high-speed Internet is seen as an important tool to support rural economic development.

And, a key issue on top of many people’s minds was the need to focus on attracting and retaining people to our rural communities, especially the next generation. Those efforts will help address the need for skilled labour as well as support rural Alberta’s long-term sustainability.

I’m very grateful to the stakeholders who took time out of their schedule to attend these discussions and provide their input.

The next step will be to use this information to help finalize the Action Plan, which we expect to release later this year.

I am looking forward to sharing those details and then putting that plan into action as we work with our community partners to help keep building Alberta.

Verlyn Olson is the Minister of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.