Team Players: Regional Cooperation for Results

In 2007, the United Nations estimated that for the first time, most people in the world lived in urban areas rather than rural areas—a phenomenon we have seen in the province, especially during Saskatchewan’s big
oil boom. People naturally tend to migrate from rural to urban areas as they become wealthier.1

Economic development organizations in the province are banding together to capitalize on economic opportunities that might otherwise go unrealized in rural areas. We spoke with three organizations covering three different regions of the province to understand what each organization does to work with others, how they came together, their goals, successes, and their predictions for the future of each region.

Mid Sask Alliance

Celine Favreau is the one-person operation behind Mid Sask Alliance, serving Lanigan, Humboldt and Watrous. For the last six years, Celine has worked at creating a marketable region with an investment attraction strategy. Mid Sask Alliance has been preparing communities to be more investment ready and marketing the opportunities offered by the region.

Currently, the Mid Sask Alliance is documenting properties across the region: business assets that each municipality has, including vacant properties, buildings, and services to build up communities by playing to their strengths. The region, already connected to agriculture and mining, also has a skill-base that includes trained manufacturing labour—which is a valuable commodity in the province.

Favreau suggests the future of the region has the capacity to become more diverse outside of its current agriculture and mining sectors. The region has manufacturing in its repertoire but can expand through value-added food processing. She notes how value-added food processing has expansion potential in the region, due to its closeness to the raw agricultural products ready for manufacturing.

South Saskatchewan Ready

South Saskatchewan Ready’s economic partnership serves nine communities across 4,500 square kilometres: Bengough, Coronach, Rockglen, Willowbunch, and the RMs of Bengough, Happy Valley, Hart Butte, Poplar Valley and Willow Bunch. Sean Wallace is the managing director at South Saskatchewan Ready. The region’s main industries include coal mining, agriculture and ranching.

The coal industry has a “question mark” according to Wallace. Coal transition is coming up in a few short years. In 2029, the Poplar River Power Station near Coronach will be shut down and have a large economic impact on the region: a loss of up to 89 per cent in household income, and $400 million in GDP.

While coal is often associated with energy uses and carbon emissions, it does have other uses that do not include burning it: it can be used to produce carbon fibre, carbon 282 (the magical ingredient that makes tires black), and agricultural products including fertilizer.

In order to help mitigate and soften the blow of shutting down Poplar River, South Saskatchewan Ready has formed a non-profit organization to incorporate a wide range of input from individual communities.

Northern Lakes Economic Development Corporation

In the northwest, the Northern Lakes Economic Development Corporation (NLEDC) includes Spiritwood (the urban hub), Shell Lake, Shellbrook, Blaine Lake, Leoville, Chitek Lake, Meeting Lake Regional Park, Rabbit Lake, and Morin Lake. Agriculture commodities are also a part of this region’s economic opportunities, as well as recreation and tourism.

Bevra Fee is managing director at NLEDC. Like Wallace and Favreau, she has a close pulse on the future of her region. “With Saskatchewan moving more into the value-added sector for our own commodities, the capacity for businesses in the region will need to increase in order to reduce costs of exporting raw goods. Manufacturing in our region has begun, and I see this as a growth opportunity,” says Fee. “Added employment will mean a continued influx of people into the region, and that in turn will put pressure on real estate and will result in further development in the towns and at the lakes. To capitalize, however, our infrastructure—roads, water systems, sewer capacity—will need to keep pace.”

Looking Down the Road

Wallace and Favreau echo the same sentiments about keeping the economic climate going: better Internet in the form of broadband or fiber (it can add 10 per cent to the GDP of a region according to Wallace), getting the region investment ready, and economic planning are the most crucial pieces to keeping rural regions with economic investment offerings and industry alive.

The ultimate vision for getting regions investment ready include cooperating with businesses and governmental organizations, and collaboration and advocacy on individual and collective levels. Banding communities together to make them stronger is crucial to keeping a big-picture economic future alive. Marketing the region is key to attracting people back to rural centres. For each economic development organization, it involves a passion for the
community, and a willingness to uplift those voices.

The urban-rural shift globally and in Saskatchewan is a challenge, inevitably, for these communities. Supporting rural economies by involving ourselves in them and advocacy for their futures are crucial to supporting the entire province’s economy. While rural areas have different challenges, they make fantastic communities for raising families and having simpler lives that boast the work-life balance the workforce craves. Now is the time for regions to work together to open their doors to the opportunity that awaits.

1Urbanization by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, Our World in Data, https://ourworldindata.org/urbanization