Marking the end of 19 years with a staff appreciation event in its Kentville boardroom. From left, in front, are Colby Clarke, Marianne Gates, Cathy Reid, Madonna MacDonald, Annette Schofield and Judy Rafuse. In back are Stephen Kerr, Mark Eastman, Debbie Hennigar and Rod Reeves. - Jennifer Hoegg, www.kingscountynews.ca
By Jennifer Hoegg
When the doors close at the Kings RDA this week, the board will say goodbye to seven employees and five bosses.
Meeting the objectives of funding partners – ACOA, the province and four municipalities – was difficult, said chairwoman Cathy Reid.
“One of the challenges would be pleasing a number of masters,” Reid said. “It’s a good challenge to have, it means we do our due diligence before we start a project.”
Over the course of 19 years, the agency worked on a long list of endeavours, but the last year has been one of winding down and finding homes for the 20 ongoing projects and committees.
When ACOA withdrew core funding and the county pulled its funding last spring, the RDA was left to prepare for “the end of time,” Reid said.
The process has been “emotional,” the New Minas business owner added, “because you’re not handing it over to anyone, so there is this sense of what it has all been for?”
The province has announced a replacement plan for the agencies - Regional Enterprise Networks – but they are still in the planning stages.
“I’m disappointed in the lack of a plan for a transition,” Reid said, particularly in the area of business retention and expansion. “You’re going to be reinventing the wheel.”
Connecting businesses and non-profits with the resources and programs they need was one of the strengths of the RDA, she said.
“(BRE) did an awful lot of matching,” Reid said. “They would go into a company, work with a company to see what it’s challenges are… they would connect dots. They might put them in touch with a program ACOA had … or something the province was doing.”
Companies don’t always know what’s out there, she added.
“Government programs don’t know what companies need them,” Reid said. “That has been a critical piece in retaining jobs in rural areas.”
A macro vision not tied to the election cycle has provided a home to long-term projects, she said.
However, the RDA model hasn’t been without flaws, including that of pleasing its funding partners and communicating and quantifying what it does.
“When you are a non-profit and spending other peoples money, how much do you spend on telling people what you do,” she asked.
“The job of an RDA is to facilitate an environment that a business wants to come and do business in. NSBI does business attraction. Our job is to do business retention.”
Community was also part of the RDA model, such as working with non-profit groups on strategic plans, which Reid said is missing in the new REN model.
Particular successes include the UNESCO designation for Grand Pré and the Valley Community Fibre Network.
Reid said the REN 3 – which has the potential to involve 11 municipalities from West Hants to Annapolis Royal – will have it’s own problems, including a lack of a clear plan.
“I think they have a bigger challenge than we ever did with 11 potential masters and the province.”
See the April 2 edition of the Kings County Advertiser for an update on plans for REN 3 and Kings RDA executive director Stephen Kerr’s thoughts on the challenges of regional economic development.