Rural Islands Economic Forum

The First Rural Islands Economic Forum

One hundred and ten delegates attended the first Rural Island Economic Forum on Pender Island, on November 7-8, 2019. Cortes Island Regional Director Noba Anderson describes the gathering as the beginnings of an alliance of BC’s rural islands, and to some extent the San Juans, “with the intend of connecting like minded communities in this time of climate chaos.”

What It Was About

“How can we be sharing best practises around sustainability initiatives, transportation initiatives, recycling initiatives, government initiatives – whatever it might be – creating a forum around whatever topics people are interested in. I certainly use the term community economic development in the broadest sense of how do you support community well being and all the things we care about are under that umbrella,” said Anderson.    

Workshop photo – courtesy Rural Island Partnership website

“We’ve created momentum here that is infinitely valuable to our goals and challenges.   I made many beneficial relationships and established a great network”  – comment posted on the Forum website    

“It was energizing and totally worthwhile, so many smart ambitious people there from the islands,” adds Kate Madigan, from the Cortes Transportation Committee.

Creating The Forum

“The Rural Islands Economic Forum was born out of research conducted in 2018 by Salt Spring Island’s Community Economic Development Commission to explore ways to optimize the delivery of economic service to rural island communities. During the course of this research, findings revealed that the vast majority of rural islands are unincorporated Electoral Areas. These Areas are under the jurisdiction of regional districts, many of which do not fully serve or understand the unique needs and challenges facing rural islands. The plea from many of those interviewed was to find a sustainable way to lobby all levels of government and non-governmental organizations. To have them listen, acknowledge, and address the key issues and concerns facing all of BC’s rural islands; especially in the context of achieving sustainable and green economies in the face of climate change…” – Labour Market Project Report: Rural Islands Economic Forum.

Representatives from our Area

Discovery Islands Chamber of Commerce, Secretary, Mark Lasby, presents cheque to support RIEP – Rural Island Partnership website

Delegations came from all but two of the islands serviced by BC Ferries: Malcom, Cormorant, Quadra, Cortes, Denman, Hornby, Lasqueti, Gambier, Bowen, Gabriola, Thetis, Saltspring, Galiano, Mayne, Pender, Saturna and the San Juans.

There were a dozen representatives from our area. Victoria Smith, from the Strathcona Regional District, spoke about the Connected Coast initiative to provide coastal communities with faster more reliable internet. One of the ‘island stories’ on the Forum’s website is about the Gathering Place Trading company from Cortes Island. The Cortes Island Tourist And Business Association (now the Cortes Community Economic Development Association ), Cortes Community Forest Co-op and the Cortes Transportation Committee all sent delegates. There were a like number of Quadra Island representatives: Discovery Islands Chamber of Commerce Secretary, Mark Lasby, presented the forum with a cheque; Andreas Hagen was on the Forum’s Steering Committee.

Cortes’ Regional Director

Anderson was contacted through the Cortes Island Business and Tourism Association and joined the Forum’s steering committee. 

“Personally, I was most interested in connecting with other people who were interested in building parallel government structure, that’s really my passion these days,” she said.

“It was wonderful to see Noba presiding over this forum as one of its main organizers and champions. She was in her element, encouraging input and involvement from all geographic areas represented there. She was a creative and positive force.”

One of the five “Island Stories”Rural Island Partnership website

Some Of Kate’s Personal High Points

She described some personal high points from the forum: 

“In particular, a long list of grants programs tailored for rural BC, put together by a very helpful BC gov person. I have been using it myself for some ideas.

“There was a presentation by some folks who have had success attracting young people with entrepreneurial spirit and drive to move to their communities. I found their ideas really creative and interesting.”

“There were people there who are business “incubators” brimming with encouragement and assistance for anyone with business ideas (many in the crowd were young people). These people were available to help and it generated much excitement and enthusiasm in the crowd. I believe Loni Taylor and Nick Gagnon were there participating.” 

“ … An economic development officer from Salt Spring caught up with me later and had some good commentary about it, and told me about her own efforts around working on ecotourism in Salt Spring and Costa Rica. I want to reconnect with her and continue the conversation.” 

“I found the presentation by BC Ferries’ CEO Mark Collins very illuminating, and helped me understand a bit more about the corporation; perhaps some of its difficulties and inability to serve communities better, esp useful to me now as a rep on the Ferry Advisory council.”

“I think it was Lovena Harvey who brought up the need for an economic development officer for Cortes – If only!“

ParticipantsRural Island Partnership website

The Forum’s Supporting Partners included: 

Invitation on the Forum’s Contact Page – Rural Island Partnership website

Going Forward

“I found that there was enough diversity of people there, that had enough expertise The problem was it was too short. By the end of the twenty-four hours I started figuring out who I should talk to,” says Anderson.

“We will be putting together a comprehensive Forum report, with public access to the various presentations offered, panel summaries, recommended actions, summary notes, etc. We will also release video footage of panels and workshops as well as individual interviews with participants. After that, we are committed to supporting the formation of ongoing spaces for rural island residents to share information, collaborate on common interest and build spaces for joint advocacy.”

All images courtesy the Rural Island Partnership website.

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