The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many lessons. Beyond the importance of washing hands and keeping our distance when we are sick, we have also learned that local business matters more than ever, and that business can happen just about anywhere. The Northern Lakes Economic Development Corporation (NLEDC) has been ahead of the game long before the pandemic hit, building community and opportunity for its region, and it shows.
The NLEDC got its start in 2009 when a group of interested residents got together to discuss how the region could work together to create more economic opportunity for the area. The Town of Spiritwood, along with the Spiritwood Rural Municipality #496, agreed to financially support the endeavour and NLEDC was born in 2010. Eleven years later, the idea has paid off and there is no end in sight for good ideas to find life with the help of NLEDC.
The Work So Far
The NLEDC has covered a lot of ground since it incorporated in 2010 with a goal to improve, attract and retain businesses and citizens in the region. Among the first orders of business was improving the curb appeal of Spiritwood, with the help of the Saskatchewan Economic Development Alliance. “We used the First Impressions program to get a sense of what visitors see when they visit,” says Bevra Fee, NLEDC managing director. “That opportunity showed us that while we made a good impression, there was work we could do to make Spiritwood even better for residents and tourists.”
Among its many accomplishments, NLEDC worked with local property owners to fundraise for a town square for free use by the community on the town’s Main Street.
A vacant space in the Rural Municipality building came alive as a new art gallery, showcasing local artists and their work for three months. Curated and installed by a professional artist, the space hosts an opening night gala with the artist. Free to visit, it’s open weekdays for residents and tourists to enjoy.
Another vacant building has become the home of the Spiritwood Artisan Boutique, which features works for sale from local artists and craftspeople. The boutique’s success led to the building owner developing a gym on the main floor, and the building’s apartment found a tenant in another local business owner who runs a business down the street. “That building went from vacant to totally filled in one year,” says Fee.
Spiritwood is also now home to an expanded Farmers Market on Main Street, with improved participation and customers due to larger space and improved signage. The town also enjoys a major Canada Day celebration with a helping grant from Heritage Canada. Community residents come together for BBQ featuring Canadian and Filipino foods (the region is home to many new Canadians from the Philippines) and fireworks at dusk.
NLEDC is also leading an inter-municipal collaboration to obtain a grant for the purpose of studying the carrying capacity of Meeting Lake. “Participants in the study are the RM of Spiritwood, RM of Meeting Lake, Meeting Lake Regional Park, and Resort Village of Spruce Bay,” says Fee. “This study will help the stakeholders surrounding the lake to make informed and qualified decisions about the amount and nature of future development in the proximity of the lake.”
This work has been guided by NLEDC’s strategic goals to build strong partnerships, have a strong business community, be ready for business growth, and attract tourists to the area with recreation opportunities. “Our work has paid off in so many ways and we’re not done yet.”
NLEDC sees the major potential the region is just beginning to realize, as are people from outside the area. “Since the pandemic hit, we have seen an increase in interest around homes and recreational properties,” says Fee. “People are thinking about where they want to find their work/life balance, and we can certainly say this area is perfect for business and families to thrive. We’re also perfect for remote working life.”
The region has many plans in the works, including road improvements, establishing a community fund, developing a bird observation deck at Witchekan Lake, increasing the presence of the energy sector, resident attraction, developing more recreational properties in the region’s lakes, and opening residential lots suitable for higher-end homes.
“The Northern Lakes is a region worth a look. We’ve achieved many of our goals so far and we’re still working,” says Fee. “This is a place to call home, to start a business, or to grow one. All it takes to learn more is to reach out and see what we can do for you.”
Learn more at nledc.wordpress.com.