The District of Clearwater’s new task force in community economic development looks to change the town from one that relies on industry to one that is sustainable and adapts by focusing on home-based businesses and telecommunications.
Established earlier this year, the Community Economic Development Task Force (CEDTF) has been entrusted to provide the DOC council with advice and feedback on a new economic development strategy with the key aspect of being community-driven.
Councillor Shelley Sim said major factors of the task force are how a community can help foster its own growth, to find the DOC’s overall goal or ambition and to have community voices at the table.
“I think that that’s just going to strengthen that long-term goal and vision for the community,” she said.
The Canfor mill shutdown, as well as the tenure transfer, and other environmental impacts show how a town can end up relying on external forces, and when those collapse, downsize or leave, it can have major impacts on the community.
“We need to diversify our economy,” said Jeff Lamond, owner of Rooted by the River Nursery, adding that tourism alone cannot sustain a community.
The municipality, he said, not only needs to market itself as the place to be for tourists, but also for the people who decide to stay.
Growing the economy also means growing the population, and Clearwater needs to ensure it has the proper infrastructure and that it is versatile enough to establish a variety of business ventures, added Lamond — technology and remote work is one solution.
“That would be the next wave of jobs,” he said. “Ultimately, the businesses are going to be using some form of internet…Once that infrastructure is in, then you can start going after [attracting] businesses.”
Internet and mobile connectivity have long been an issue in Clearwater for many, and one project the CEDTF is committed to is to explore how the DOC can create its own utility.
A grant of $170,000 was received by the DOC under the Community Transition Recovery Strategy program to help ease the impacts from the Vavenby sawmill closure. The funds will be used to, “assist with a broadband and cellular infrastructure strategy, and capacity for implementation of the updated economic development and community transition strategy and other community economic recovery actions,” said Leslie Groulx, DOC chief administrative officer in an email to the Times.
Another project currently being done for the task force is the gathering of information from various businesses from agriculture to tourism and into forestry through a consulting firm, which was also made possible by grants received by the DOC.
“If we didn’t have that from the government, we would just have another plan,” said Sim. “But this is also going to provide some resources to implement some of the recommendations that come forward.”
Other ideas include a social media campaign to attract business owners from the lower mainland and using the community’s ability to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think what the task force will really address is how well our community overall has been able to pivot and make some quick adjustments,” said Sim. “You look around our town and most businesses are up and running and are responding well.
“So I think that’s a real aspect to the acumen of our business community.”