Last winter’s decision to expand the Eastern Kings Chamber of Commerce to included the former Western Kings Board of Trade and Central Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce was a prescient one.
Since the February 2012 change, the economic development landscape has also shifted to a regional approach. With the province’s implementation of the REN system – regional economic networks – Kings, West Hants and Annapolis will be part of a larger rural economic development entity.
According to the chamber’s executive, the local business organization is keen to get in on the project in the early stages. The group could have influence on how the idea progresses. With more than 530 members, the group has a good deal of clout on the regional scene.
Outgoing chamber president Scott Roberts said Feb. 21, at the annual general meeting, the bigger chamber has already been more effective than its predecessors.
“We were able to be a credible voice for business with decision makers and government leaders at municipal, provincial and federal levels, “ Roberts said.
Buying into the REN seems to fit with the wishes of the local business community. A survey of AVCC members’ economic development wishes put “co-ordination of economic development efforts across the Valley” at the top of the priority list.
Of the members surveyed, 77 per cent rated economic co-ordination in the top three among eight priorities.
While the AVCC is on board, some local municipalities have seemed reluctant to buy into the new REN.
As of the Kings Partnership Steering Committee’s Feb. 7 meeting, Kings County council hadn’t discussed the concept officially and Wolfville representatives said the town was unsure. Berwick recently gave tepid, preliminary approval to the idea.
Without the economic engine of the local business community, local municipalities have nothing to work with. It’s time for local government to get on board with the REN model and see if it can help with the challenges of rural economic development in our increasingly urbanized world.
There is already a guaranteed lag between the demise of the regional development authorities and the creation of the regional economic networks. Hesitancy and dithering over whether co-operation on the problem of economic development and who should pay what share is going to extend the gap. Yes, each town has it’s own economic development goals, but they cannot each stand on their own.
While municipal governments’ services are limited by political boundaries, citizens’ activities are not. People and money flow across town limits and economic development does not stop at a border. No one municipality can tackle this problem on its own. As the chamber’s expansion has shown, a broader view is necessary to have enough clout to create change.
It’s going to take creativity, partnership and a broader focus to keep the Annapolis Valley a vibrant, viable region. Get on board.