By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

The Village of Canal Flats approved an updated economic development strategy at its council meeting at the end of March.

During the village’s Monday, March 22 council meeting, council members discussed a report submitted by the village’s contracted economic development officer Chris Fields, before adopting the updated five-year strategy.

The village first created an economic development strategy almost five years ago, in fall 2016, following the permanent closure of the mill, which had been the village’s economic and employment lifeblood for decades. The strategy was meant to help the village generate employment and to build a distinct community.

In his report, Fields outlined that that second goal, to build a distinct community, reflects a workforce shift to more decentralized employment (including self-employment and working from home), noting that this trend has been considerably accelerated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “In this context, community appearance, amenities, housing cost, and quality of life are primary to decisions about where people live – and these folks bring jobs with them,” wrote Fields.

He went on to explain that although the economic development strategy has been updated in places to reflect emergent issues and ideas, in a general sense, the strategy “stay(s) the course” with the community development vision unchanged.

The three key updates to the strategy are a resident attraction strategy and implementation plan; identifying foundation issues (including lake access and docks, health services, dyke re-investment, highway 93/95 south access improvements, and others); and a Next Gen Smart Tech Village Vision.

The foundations issues have “the most fundamental influence on both successful investment attraction and current resident ability to have access to local jobs and enjoy local quality of life,” wrote Fields, adding that almost all of these issues require the village to collaborate with other agencies or levels of government. He cited external investment in the dyke and highway 93/95 access improvements as particularly critical to building viable business models in Canal Flats.

The Next Gen Smart Tech Village Vision is meant to help focus and inter-connect investment, and involves viewing new economic activity in Canal Flats as an “eco-system”. This vision is primarily related to future use of the old mill lands, but can be applied to other parts of the village, wrote Fields.

Fields acknowledged “that forging a new way forward for the village requires grit, determination, and time; there are no overnight community development success stories especially in context of a village challenged with its sustainability and even survival post-mill closure.”

Canal Flats council members discussed the report during the meeting, with mayor Karl Sterzer outlining that the term ‘creating new business ecosystems’ means not just creating new economic activity, but also making sure it is diverse, and that for Canal Flats, that could mean developing raw goods, manufacturing, and technology. Sterzer added that in some respects Canal Flats is in a good situation when it comes to attracting new business, noting that it may appear as though the East Kootenay has plenty of empty land, “but in truth there is not a lot of land to do business (on). Canal Flats is incredibly well positioned for land to do business, with the former Canfor land. So as far as potential suitors looking for a place like that, we’re in a good position, and I think there will be a lot of good conversations that will be had, or that are being had right now.”

Councillor Marie Delorme noted that the report outlined seven different types of industries that could potentially be brought to Canal Flats, which the report breaks down into targets for economic development, including agritech, agri-food, technology, metal fabrication, industrial services, small-scale creator and makers.

“When I read that, it’s far more diverse than when we were a mill town,” she said.