People in smaller western Canadian communities hold their future in their own hands. The federal and provincial governments cannot, and will not, save their towns and villages. Fortunately, there are many ways to create jobs and keep rural communities alive and well.
Here are 25 ideas to help your community grow and prosper.
- Link up to the information highway. A community-wide initiative to link up to, and take advantage of, the Internet will have many benefits. These include supporting and helping local businesses expand their markets, providing better market data for local companies, and promoting tourism and investment.
- Encourage home/farm-based businesses. They are easy to start up, provide a dependable work force and have little overhead expenses. In the last few years, over 70 percent of all new jobs in the four western provinces were created in a home.
- Provide a new service. If people are leaving town for certain services, figure out how to provide it. Changing technology can allow people to provide services to anyone, anywhere.
- Employ technology. For example, an individual in Manitoba bought a computer-assisted sewing machine to make badges that he now sells to such places as Saudi Arabia and Germany.
- Add value to farm products. Food can be processed before being sent to market. For example, communities have created potato factories and ethanol plants.
- Diversify. Exotic animals have become a source of income for many farmers. Other offer farm vacations. A Wroxton district resident has turned part of his farm into a paint ball field. Local people and visitors now pay to play war games in 25 acres of simulated adventure setting.
- Improve the community's reputation. Look at the image of your town. Make it attractive and encourage companies and home-based businesses to relocate from cities to your town.
- Re-use and recycle. Look at things already in the community that could be turned into a new industry. For example, slag heaps from a nickel mine in Thompson, Manitoba became grit sold to an industry in Lloydminster.
- Improve an existing product. A Canora farmer developed tie-down straps for his plane. Other people wanted them for tarps. He sold thousands of them.
- Patent an invention. Many people in the community have good ideas but are reluctant to get patents because of the hassles involved. Many of these inventors would appreciate help from lawyers, accountants and consultants.
- Start a cottage industry. These are easy to start up, do not require large amounts of capital and cause no disruption in services in other communities. Using direct mail and electronic marketing, products can be sold around the world.
- Elevate hobbyists. These can be turned into a home/farm-based business. For example, there is a company in Neepawa that makes and sells hugh kites worth several thousand dollars.
- Exploit community resources. These could be natural or cultural resources. For example, if you community has natural attractions, set up a campground, or a bed and breakfast operation. Sell products at a local farm fair or cultural events.
- Create or do something unique. Examples in Alberta include the world's largest Ukrainian Easter egg at Vegreville, a landing pad for space aliens at St. Paul and the giant duck in Andrew. Unique events include the annual Ukrainian festivals in Vegreville and Dauphin. These attractions being in money and can create jobs in local communities. Make sure to tell the world about you unique attractions and events. Be sure to set up a Web site to promote your communities and these special events.
- Support local businesses. Get your merchants together to establish programs to promote local shopping. However, local companies must earn their business. They must provide quality products and services. If necessary, give local business people marketing and customer service training.
- Invest in new community ventures. Where permitted, establish local bond corporations. Manitoba and Saskatchewan allow people to raise money for local investment. Make sure that the projects people are asked to invest in have a good business plan, have been well-researched and have a good chance of success.
- Expand on what a community has. Work with neighbours or neighbouring communities to share resources and services to ensue the survival of the region. Work with Indian bands and their resources. Look at the talents and assets of a community and develop them.
- Keep youth in the community. Encourage high school graduates to stay or return to the community. Include them in community planning, pay attention to their interests and offer them new recreational activities and other reasons to return. Help them set up student-run businesses to provide summer jobs, and to help them gain business experience.
- Establish school partnerships. Set up partnerships between local schools and businesses in the community. High schools need help in teaching entrepreneurial skills required by students if they are to make their own jobs and stay in the community. Establish cooperative programs so that students can see the benefits of working in a small business.
- Set up an incubation centre. Find an empty office building, borrow some furniture and equipment, and provide a place for start-up companies to grow. Ask local successful business men and women (active or retired) to serve as advisors and mentors. Negotiate reasonable fees from accountants, lawyers and other professional to provide advice and services to these entrepreneurs.
- Set up a community marketing task force. Get together representatives from business, the schools and the community to set up a marketing plan. The marketing plan should focus on your community's advantages and attractions. Come up with ways to promote your community and attract new job and businesses.
- Ensure that the basis infrastructure is in place. For local business to thrive, certain services must be in place. For example, good telephone and postal/courier services are important to many small and home-based businesses to market their products and services outside the community. If these essential services are not in place, lobby to have them introduced.
- Get rid of "red tape." Review your local bylaws and change any that create obstacles to people wanting to set up a home-based or local business. Make it easy for entrepreneurs to get the necessary licenses and permits. Consider waiving businesses taxes for new businesses.
- Provide training and information. Many local people have the good ideas and skills to provide unique products and services. Often what is lacking is the knowledge and information about running a successful businesses. Provide your entrepreneurs and local businesses with opportunities to learn. Government agencies, colleges and private companies all offer excellent courses and seminars. Arrange to have some run in your community on a regular basis.
- Prepare and implement a strategic plan. Many communities do not know what they want to be. Get together a task force, with outside experts if necessary, and develop a strategic plan for your community. That way, once you know what kind of community the residents want, you can develop and implement plans to achieve your vision. Resources and energies can then be better used on achieving the desired results.
Great communities do not simply happen. They are the result of planning and a lot of cooperative hard work. Consider the above ideas and see which can be used to make your community thrive and grow.