A group created to develop the economy in the Slocan Valley is running out of operational funds. File photo

A group created to develop the economy in the Slocan Valley is running out of operational funds. File photo

As funding dries up, Slocan Valley economic development group plans ahead

Funding for the group’s two employees runs out in October

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

The Slocan Valley Economic Development Partnership is planning for the future – even as funding for the program begins to wind down this fall.

The partnership, consisting of representatives from the Villages of New Denver, Silverton and Slocan, and RDCK Area H Director Walter Popoff, has directed the group’s economic development officer to do an update of its economic development strategy, and report back in September.

“It’s a good time to take stock, to see what the priorities are and check in with Village councils and stakeholders, to hear what the priorities are from their perspective,” says Ron Leblanc, the Slocan Valley Economic Development co-ordinator. “But also to take a step back from the Slocan Valley, and see what the forces are that are shaping the valley, shaping our economy and community, to take a look down the road.”

The first strategic plan was completed in 2017, and came up with nearly 30 recommendations for developing business and the economy of the Slocan Valley. It mostly addressed more high-level economic initiatives, like building networks of business, valley creatives and entrepreneurs, designing marketing campaigns, and support strategies that supported businesses on the macro level.

It also achieved several other goals, says Leblanc – whose 2018 hiring as ED co-ordinator was one of the top recommendations in the study.

“What we did well was to connect with local business, to build up some of the tools that were needed or needed to be updated – like the website, and we put a lot of effort into social media. We moved a lot of tools and information online,” he says. “We built up some of those tools, and used them for economic development campaigns.”

Those included a ‘Shop Slocan’ buy local campaign, a craft sales campaign around Christmas, a food producer support campaign, and a local musician support project, he said.

“We did some broad-level, one-to-one business support too, helping them … connecting them to the resources that are out there in the community, and that was very successful as well.”

But the program’s days are numbered, as core funding for the project has dried up. By October, funding for Leblanc and his co-worker Karen Kornelsen’s salaries will run out.

“Right now where we stand, as of September there is no money to implement this,” he says.

But with the help of $20,000 in funds from the RDCK and the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior (ETSI-BC), Leblanc can at least develop a game plan for the future to allow the economic development work to continue – albeit in a different form.

“What we’re trying to do is set up the valley partners with a plan with different scenarios – what kinds of things they can do as a Village council, or what priorities can they pursue for funding if those present themselves.”

The new study won’t be as extensive as the 2017 report, but Leblanc says much of that document is still relevant today, despite the pandemic, the legalization of cannabis, and a population boom causing a housing crunch in the valley in the intervening years.

Leblanc plans a series of consultation meetings or online sessions this summer with stakeholders and the public to update that information, look for input on what new initiatives are in demand, and at least sketch out plans for the future.

Leblanc says he hopes the work of the last five years will continue.

“We still have our fingers crossed that something will come up, a grant can be found and we can turn that into more capacity…,” he told the Valley Voice. “I would like to set this plan up so there are different pathways, to say ‘here’s some priorities we can maybe apply for grant money for.’ Or ‘here’s some things a council can do, or the RDCK or other stakeholders can do to pick up the ball’ perhaps.

“So I just want to look into that, so that we’re not wrapping up this program with no further capacity, and we just go silent.”