By Cole Parkinson
As the Town of Vauxhall continues work on their regional economic development strategic plan, they were given an update on where the project was.
During council’s regular meeting held on Dec. 17, MDB Insight was in council chambers to run over the status of the plan.
“The purpose of the plan, because economic means a lot of things to a lot of people, the idea here is to prioritize. There are a lot of initiatives that are being under taken by JEDC (Taber Regional Joint Economic Development Committee) by the individual municipalities as well. The idea out of this isn’t to be requesting lots of money or new full-time equivalent staff positions to undertake these initiatives, but really to help make decisions on the best way to spend the time and money you want to put toward economic development,” said Paul Blais, executive vice-president MDB Insight. “The plan itself was regional and it was made very clear by JEDC that the plan shouldn’t be high-level, it should be tactical, very reaction oriented. I think we have accomplished that with your help. A couple of weeks ago we presented the regional aspect to the JEDC and earlier I was in front of the Town of Taber council.”
Work on the regional plan was started this summer with it being on time and on budget.
A big portion of the plan was a survey that was distributed to 65 businesses, five of which were Vauxhall based businesses, that gauged a variety of opinions on how best to proceed.
Some of the aspirations listed from the survey are a regional labour supply in town, plant based protein hub, access to high quality bandwidth and stronger working partnerships in region.
“We took into consideration the engagement that we heard, the input from the business owners. Two specific things, we wanted to look at items that had some immediate return or a possibility of immediate return and also longer-term impact to sustain or create vitality in the community. We looked at the resources required and also some logical sequences,” said Blais.
Within the plan, there is also individual strategic economic frameworks for the Town of Taber, M.D. of Taber and Town of Vauxhall.
As part of the Vauxhall portion, a SOARR (strength, opportunities, aspirations, risks and results) assessment was done to further guide strategic planning in the town.
Strengths listed are manufacturing growth, Vauxhall Academy of Baseball (VAB), recreation facilities, affordable housing and MAP graduation rate while opportunities are business retention/expansion plan, initiate business after-care program, identify stronger adult high school equivalency completion rates, work with VAB for broader program, identify critical supply chain gaps for investment attraction in key sectors (agri-food, oil/gas servicing, transportation) and initiate Main Street revitalization plan.
Aspirations are listed as reverse trends that pose threats to economic viability including population decline/low high school graduation rates, increase access to quality internet, enhance investment attraction/business retention, increase attractiveness of community assets, public spaces and commercial zone of downtown core, risks are youth continue to leave and not return to Vauxhall, retail business continues to decline and results are listed as improved relationship with VAB, population growth resumes, after-care program implemented and visitation schedule is in place.
In terms of strategic objectives, MDB Insight lists four different types with a set of goals in how to accomplish them.
Objective one is enhancing business attraction and retention efforts to maximize economic impact which is a short term goal, hopefully completed within one year.
“Business attraction is what normally makes the headlines of the newspaper, new company comes to town and creates 50 jobs. What doesn’t necessarily make the newspaper is when a business adds one or two people and when 20 or 30 businesses across the region add one or two jobs. The regional and local plan are really emphasizing that it is as important to pay attention to the existing business community as it is to attract new business. The local business community rallies around that and when we spoke to that at the workshop with the businesses, they were all nodding their heads,” explained Blais.
Goals for the first objective are to formalize a business retention and expansion plan to engage businesses, monitor problems and provide opportunities for intervention, identify critical supply chain gaps as opportunities for investment attraction in key sectors such as agri-food, oil and gas servicing and transportation/warehousing and to initiate a business after-care program.
“A lot of the conversations were around recent business closings in the community and what that has done to the enthusiasm or psyche of the community. This is meant to identify that and it is important for the municipality to do whatever it can to create a buzz in the community,” added Blais.
The next objective is also a short-term project which hopes to see the town leverage existing baseball assets to expand broader economic driver.
Goals for the second objective are working with VAB to expand programming and expanding the baseball legacy in Vauxhall.
“You really have a unique asset here, something that has been developed over time and potentially has the ability to be more,” added Blais.
Objective three revolves around ensuring Vauxhall is inviting to tourists and residents by creating a unique sense of place and it is a medium-term goal with hopes of completion in two to three years.
Goals for this objective are to initiate a main-street revitalization plan to improve the appeal and attractiveness of main commercial areas and to revitalize under-developed spaces.
The final objective for the Town of Vauxhall strategic economic framework is to work regionally on collaborative economic opportunities.
“I do think if you are going to pursue protein based cluster development or protein based business attraction, that is best done at a regional level so continue to work with your partners at the Town of Taber and M.D. For the smallish investment in dollars that Vauxhall would have to put into initiatives like that, it would do the most to buoy the economy. Even if the business ends up in the M.D. or town of Taber, people who live here have as much potential of working in those places as anyone,” continued Blais.