Editorial – Thoughts on growing

Jeff Burgar

“You want to see economic development?” said a prominent Falher businessperson years ago.

“Everybody is talking about economic development,” he continued. “Well, give me a million dollars or two and I will show you development!”

The fellow, Jean Nicolet, was outspoken how he thought money spent on studies, hiring of consultants and development officers, along with offices and travel and conferences and seminars, was all mostly a waste of time and cash. It just never seemed to result in anything seriously worthwhile.

On one hand, he was right. And even today, still right!

It is really hard to point to buildings and smokestacks that came about because a study said this or that was a good idea. Most days, even the consultants and development officers don’t come up with much. Some of the biggest projects in the High Prairie area, in all of northern Alberta in fact, came about not because of any so-called “economic development” office. They happened because of the hard work of certain individuals.

A few such include Northern Lakes College in Slave Lake, the High Prairie Regional Hospital, development of access into Seal Lake from Peace River, Alberta Newsprint in Whitecourt, and Tolko OSB in High Prairie.

On the other hand, it is often grunt work behind the scenes by paid staff that develops the groundwork for a few big projects, or puts together the background material that supports some imaginative person or persons’ big idea.

It’s a mixed bag. We still think Nicolet is mostly right. Fortunately, economic development offices don’t cost much. Which also means, chasing economic development ideas doesn’t cost much. Sometimes, all it takes is a letter.

Many years ago, High Prairie was fighting to have its RCMP costs paid by the Province of Alberta, as the province paid for what is now Big Lakes County RCMP costs and all counties and municipal districts in Alberta. At that time, a staggering 42 per cent of High Prairie taxpayer money was paying policing costs. High Prairie was going broke. A few councillors of the time, when most were ready to give up, said, “This is too important to let die. At least, let’s write one more letter.”

The province finally agreed to pay.

Sometimes, obvious results are right in front of decision makers. Sometimes, results are far away.

It might not be immediately obvious that a new campus for Northern Lakes College in High Prairie is a big deal. It is. Schools are huge economic drivers in any community. The High Prairie region has watched, mostly silently, as the Slave Lake campus of the college grows.

Now, with the High Prairie School Division site for a new High Prairie college campus gone, are local decision makers from any local governments dealing with this?

The goal here is not just a new campus. The goal is a new campus built on land with room to grow years down the road.

Does High Prairie have leaders with big ideas? Or just small people with even smaller ideas?


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