By Jennifer Hoegg
‘Think bigger’ is the message in the province’s proposal on regional development.
The late-November report, Renewing Regional Economic Development in Nova Scotia, proposes replacing the current Regional Development Authority model with six Regional Enterprise Networks (RENs).
For the Valley, it would mean one organization serving Kings and Annapolis counties, along with West Hants; the Kings RDA territory, with half of the Hants RDA, and the Annapolis Digby Economic Development Agency areas.
Provincial funding would be just under $400,000 for the new area – REN 3 – with the 11 municipalities involved expected to match that amount.
Local municipal leaders are already meeting to discuss how to proceed.
Kentville Mayor Dave Corkum said a number of mayors and wardens met Dec. 12 at the invitation of Kings County’s Warden Diana Brothers.
“The major thing that I believe we have to agree on, before we get into the nuts and bolts, is if the province is willing to pay for half of this and our share is the other half… how do we come up with a funding formula that is fair?” Corkum said.
The 11 chief administrative officers would be meeting to work on a proposal, Corkum said.
“The mood in that room was positive,” he added.
With the federal government backing out of core funding for the agencies, municipalities will be full partners with the province.
“There are advantages for us to try to work this out, but there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered,” Corkum said.
Asked if the province could have sped up the process by imposing a cost-sharing model on the municipal partners, Corkum said it might have.
However, “we like to think we’re in charge of our own destiny,” he added.
“(This) makes it a little more difficult, but, if they had of done that, I think some of us might have hollered.”
A board of eight to 12 people would head the REN, with an important change from the current structure: along with business representatives, senior staff - not elected officials - would represent municipal partners.
Corkum says that’s a positive move.
“If they put the business people on the board, they will look after what’s the best interest for economic development in our region,” he said. “They won’t be looking at boundary lines as much as the municipal (politicians), who might be trying to protect their own turf.”
One of the current Kings RDA’s board members, Kentville’s Dave Ritcey, hopes all the municipalities will get on board in short order.
“The good thing is the province has enough sense to realize that we’ve got to continue economic development,” he said. “They’re willing to step up to the plate. The question is, will all the municipalities be willing to step up to the plate?”
Time is short. According to a letter from the province and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, the expectation is to have the REN model set by the end of February.
“I’m hoping it can be done prior to the end of March because our RDA is supposed to be closing up,” Corkum said. “It’s ambitious, but I’m kind of hopeful.
“I hate to say it boils down to money, but, if we can get past the money piece, the rest of it will fall in place. I don’t see why it won’t work.”
Time to lead
A current member of Kings RDA board thinks Kentville should push to host the new REN.
Dave Ritcey, a financial planner, has been the town’s citizen representative on the board for about 18 months. On Dec. 10, he urged the town to push for the new REN to be housed in town, close to legal and business resources, and for chief administrative officer Mark Phillips to be on the new organization’s board.
“I am pushing for Kentville continuing to be the leader regionally economically,” Ritcey said. “We’re stepping up to the plate; we would like to lead. If others feel that way, say it.”
He believes the RDA should continue its presence in Kentville, making the transition simpler at the end of March from RDA to REN. Kentville, he says, has a “really strong” financial, accounting and legal community.
“I think there’s an opportunity to make sure we have access to those resources,” he said.
Kentville’s mayor said the location would make sense, but noted other towns and counties would also want the office.
“If we’re going to have a REN that goes from Hants through to Annapolis County, I would hope they would look at a central location,” Dave Corkum said. “I hope it will be based on what is best for the REN. I think the whole idea is to work together, not working against each other.”
The business community needs to be part of the shift, too, he said, praising the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce for hosting a stakeholder session Dec. 17 in Berwick.
Ritcey said he looks forward to a regional development strategy with more of a business focus than a political one. He also spoke favourably of muncipalities having a “two-pronged” approach to economic development: locally through organizations like the Kentville Development Corporation Limited and Wolfville Business Development Corporation.
The province’s report, he noted, “is a bit shy” on the business front.
“I think there’s a good push to have business people on the board of directors,” Ritcey said. “I think the report falters a bit on how do you involve the local business people at (the local) level.”