New Regional Development Agency for the Prairie Provinces Continues Legacy of Supporting Diversification
Last August, the federal government announced its decision to build upon the legacy of Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD), a 34-year-old Regional Development Agency (RDA) responsible for business and community development by creating two new distinct regional entities for the Prairies and British Columbia.
This resulted in the formation of Pacific Economic Development Canada, a department unique to British Columbia, and Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan) which exclusively supports the economic growth and diversification of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.
In addition to WD’s $149 million existing core program funding and additional federal resources like the $700M Jobs and Growth Fund, PrairiesCan is also extending its reach by establishing seven new service locations in these provinces while maintaining its Edmonton headquarters and four other existing offices.
Abdul Jalil, PrairiesCan’s assistant deputy minister for the Saskatchewan Region, is enthusiastic about the creation of the RDAs and their new offices saying, “The new structure is going to enable PrairiesCan to be more accessible, to sponsor and play a stronger role as conveners, finders, advisors, and investment partners to help build better economic outcomes for communities, businesses, and regional economies.”
One indicator PrairiesCan relies on to determine whether “businesses are innovative and growing in western Canada” is by measuring the value of exports of goods from the western provinces. Its target to achieve $181.8 billion in exports by 2022 had been accomplished in 2017 and was surpassed in 2018 rising further to $207.8 billion, with nearly $2 billion in gains the following year.1
Jalil believes there is a correlation between these results and the former WD’s past support of industry associations and companies to increase value-added exports, and that continued investment will maintain further increases in regional growth, but he also appreciates the cooperation which has led to these achievements.
“Industry organizations played a role, and local municipalities played a role, so it’s a collective effort as long as we are all pulling in the same direction,” Jalil says. “Our Business Scale-up and Productivity Program provides a
repayable contribution to innovative private sector companies that are looking to grow their businesses … and Western Canadians are innovative, they are entrepreneurial, and we are seeing an increase in diversification in the economy, and they are contributing to export growth.”
PrairiesCan is also playing its role to deliver regional funding from the federal Aerospace Regional Recovery Initiative in Western Canada, a recent $250M three-year national program to help the sector emerge from the pandemic with the capacity to compete on the global stage. Jalil says that like national airlines the pandemic has had a significant impact on the regional transportation ecosystem so crucial to local economic growth and the movement of goods across the country.
“It is difficult, if not impossible for businesses to connect and make agreements without air travel, and the export economy is no different,” Jalil says. “We need infrastructure to transport people and goods, and regional airports are key to the economic development of communities and businesses across Canada.”
In addition to PrairiesCan’s strategic priority of diversifying the economy for innovation and pandemic recovery, it also prioritizes inclusiveness to increase the participation of underrepresented groups with lower rates of employment and business ownership.
Jalil believes that the new Black Entrepreneurship Program and PrairiesCan’s existing core mechanisms to support Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, and other groups have significant economic benefits which emerge from having a more diverse business community as well.
“An inclusive workforce creates more opportunity, growth, and in some cases also helps us grow new markets or expand into existing markets … whether it’s food production or the digital side, we can bring that technology outside the country but also grow talent within our country,” Jalil says.
Western Economic Diversification Canada, 2021-2022 Departmental Plan, “Planned Results for Economic Development in Western Canada,” https://www.wd-deo.gc.ca/eng/20141.asp.