We need to be ready for the boom

“Communicating the needs of so many small communities is impossible without a regional voice.”

A Terrace-based think tank says the northwest is not prepared to handle the level of economic activity headed our way.

To better cope, the Skeena-Nass Centre for Innovation in Resource Economics (SNCIRE) wants to create a regional clearing house for information circulating between businesses, agencies and governments who will be affected by growth and its effects.

SNCIRE regional director Rick Brouwer laid out the plan before city council June 11 in asking for $7,500 to help finance the concept.

Northwest BC is an immense area richly endowed in natural resources but with a population of less than 100,000 people,” said Brouwer in a report given to council.

Communicating the needs of so many small communities is impossible without a regional voice.”

Without a regional voice, and without looking at regional impacts and service gaps as well unintended effects of industry, an industrial boom could create a mess which would involve cleanup in its aftermath, he said. With foresight, issues can be anticipated, dealt with, and energy in the form of man power can be applied to goals that would preserve the wealth expected to hit the region instead, Brouwer added after the meeting.

Let’s be smart about how we grow,” Brouwer said, adding that spending money on regional co-operation now will pay off down the road.

Currently, Brouwer explained that while there are many initiatives working to bring northwesterners together with specific goals in mind, there is no one place for all ideas to be gathered, shared, studied and gaps identified and dealt with.

It’s ad hoc,” said Brouwer to council of current economic development groups and committees focused on the boom.

For example, the Invest Northwest website, financed by economic development groups, is a good landing point for those interested in seeing what kind of activity is going on in the region, he said.

And BC Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line Labour Market Project — which identifies labour needs resulting from projects including and stemming from the line — is essential.

But neither delve into what effect these projects and positions, once here, will have on the healthcare system, for instance, said Brouwer.

And while the City of Terrace currently has a task force called the Community Impacts Committee, which focuses on identifying unintended consequences of incoming activity to Terrace and area and is looking at things like effects on local health care and city infrastructure — its scope is limited to being very local.

I think when we talk about community impacts in Terrace, we’ve got a sense of some ideas of what they could be,” said councillor Brian Downie after the meeting. “But somebody in Hazleton or Stewart might have quite a different picture.”

With a regionally-focused communication hub, it would enable all groups working to share their ideas in an open forum, said Brouwer.

This would also help working groups to see if any of there mandates cross and if they can give each other a hand, creating efficiency through time saved that can then be used elsewhere.

It can also help the region see, and agree, on needs that can then be communicated to the appropriate channels with a stronger, united, regional voice.

It’s literally saying if we all have an idea of where we’re all going then we’ll get there better,” Brouwer said, adding levels of government are more likely to listen to 100,000 voices than 1000.

The next steps for SNCIRE are to begin creating the communications hub — which will involve an online component.

Simultaneously, SNCIRE will be meeting with regional stakeholders, gathering ideas, and looking for start-up monies.

The estimated cash cost for the project is $188,000 and includes pay for staff members who will manage and organize content as well as drive some initiatives born of that content.

In-kind donation requirements are estimated at $108,000 and SNCIRE is chipping in office space valued at $10,000.

It has applied to the Real Estate Foundation BC for $94,000.

Terrace’s city council referred SNCIRE’s request for $7,500 to city staff who will later recommend if council should contribute or not. Brouwer said any spending now will provide a benefit later.