Friday, June 22, 2012

Wise practices in Indigenous Community Development Sept 13-15 2012

I had the pleasure of sitting beside, and getting to know, two young ladies Anna and Katie from the Banff Center at the conference in Osoyoos this weekend.  They let me know about an upcoming conference that I thought people would be interested in attending - so mark your calendars.

September 13-15, 2012 a conference on "Wise practices in indigenous community development" will take place at the Banff Center.  The agenda looks great and includes the results from a series of case studies where inspiring success stories emerged.

Our conversation also picked up on the need to find ways to share the voices of young adults with respect to attraction and retention in rural, remote and aboriginal communities. It sounds like they have been doing some very innovative work to learn about young aboriginal leaders so I think I have also found another speaker for our conference next year on "Attracting and Retaining Young Adults to Rural Regions". We are still working to submit the proposal, so we will share more as soon as we have a date to announce.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cross border collaboration - VIA 97

At this weeks conference I had the pleasure to hear Chris Branch, Community Development Director for the City of Oroville, WA speak about Via 97. 

I will borrow from their website to describe this unique international alliance:
"The VIA 97 International Alliance consists of partners from both sides of the border from our northernmost community, Salmon Arm, British Columbia to our southernmost, Leavenworth, Washington. The Alliance has the full and active support of elected officials from three counties and their cities in Washington State (Okanogan, Chelan, and Douglas), the elected officials from the three Regional Districts and their communities in British Columbia (RDOS, CORD, NORD), the Colville confederated Tribes and the Okanagan Nations Alliance.
Historically, the Highway 97 corridor was known as the Okanogan Caribou Trail and had great economic significance to early residents. Maps from this early time show this as a vital trade route with very little emphasis on the line of demarcation created by the US/Canada border. The VIA 97 International Alliance recognizes the significance of this highway, which has served such an important role in the economic health of our interior region and offers opportunities for those communities lying along Highway 97."

Chris went into the origin and maintenance of this alliance in great detail. I listened intently as one of the most frequent questions I get when I advocate working together regionally, is how exactly that should happen. So many well intended alliances or partnerships start out but fail after they are out the gate.  Competition, mistrust, egos, personality issues or lack of communication seem to be most often at fault.  As Chris talked I could see one of the elements keeping this alliance alive was consistent leadership or involvement by some key people, and likely, a track record of some significant accomplishments that are in line with their mission.  What I also thought was interesting was that there was a focus, at least on the WA side, of maintaining relationships and communication over chasing projects.  He said they often felt pressure to be "doing something" like creating a project, yet, the essence of their work was intact. He said that on the WA side, economic development folks meet on the same day each month for face time in the same place. Over time, others have joined in to have their meetings happen at the same time. What a simple and novel idea! Imagine the productivity that happens and the efficiency of timing a bunch of meetings with the folks that all need to talk on a regular basis in a central location!  He pointed out the names and titles of about 20 people on one of his slides, evidencing that he has got to know these people and their work - and no doubt, the strength of those relationships transfer over to a number of other initiatives outside of the VIA 97 work.

I have long felt that when groups can build social capital on one initiative like tourism, the benefits transfer over into other engagements. Chris's talk validated that thinking and perhaps provides one more reason to focus on the right things in regional collaboration - what we have in common, and the building of trusting and enduring relationships. I have a graduate student, Marc Sorrie, working with April Moi on the Northern Alaska Highway and he is exploring cross jurisdiction engagement there - I am curious to know what he will find out and suggest that he, or others interested in making visitor experiences that cross jurisdictional boundaries easier - connect with Chris for some perspective from the VIA 97 collaboration.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Electric vehicle tourism in North Central Washington

Yesterday at the Pacific Northwest Economic Development Conference I had the pleasure to learn about an exciting new initiative taking place south of the border to make it easy for electric vehicle drivers to travel in North Central Washington. I thought it was so well executed and such an innovative and forward thinking initiative that many of you in other areas could piggy back on their ideas.

More and more people in urban locations, the primary market for many rural tourism destinations, are purchasing electric cars. I learned a lot yesterday from Ron Johnston Rodriguez about the innovation happening in electric vehicles. The market for EV is particularly strong in Seattle. Picking up on the infrastructure needs that EV users have for charging stations, a number of actors have been working together to create EV corridors from the City. This will enable EV users to travel out of the city and explore rural areas with confidence that they can find "fuel" to return.

The corridor is also equipped with signage to illustrate where the EV charging stations are (see below)

Ron described the collaboration that has taken place to pilot the EV corridor for tourism.  The corridor is the World's First EV Corridor. A quote from their website that describes the project says "The three DC Fast Charging stations and accompanying Level 2 stations will allow drivers of appropriately equipped electric vehicles (e.g. Nissan Leafs and Mitsubishi i-MiEVs with fast charging capability) to make the trip between the two regions and become EV tourists. Several hotels in North Central Washington—including Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavenworth and Springhill Suites in Wenatchee—are standing ready to accommodate these pioneering EV tourists with free charges for hotel guests at their on-site Level 2 charging stations. In addition, several other Level 2 charging stations in Wenatchee are at the ready including two behind the Convention Center and two at Stevens Pass Ski Area."

To pilot the corridor and make sure it works, the partnership invited 12 EV users to travel the route and use the charging stations. This just happened last weekend and according to Ron, it was a great success. As demand for the stations increases and people can see the opportunities associated to it, both from the demand and the supply side, I am sure that expansion will happen. What I so appreciated about Ron and the project was the "can do attitude" and collaboration that took place to make this happen. There are always enough nay sayers in the room who can find fault or problems with every innovative idea and that is certainly the case with the EV movement. But if we don't take risks and try, we will never be able to do what is natural to humans - evolve, enhance and adapt. 

After the session I had a great lively chat with Ron and said I had the perfect tag line for them "Recharge your batteries here" getting at the opportunity to get out of the urban madness for awhile and recharge not only EV batteries but our human batteries as well in great rural settings. He laughed. As I had done a talk on amenity development as the NEXT approach for economic development that am, I told him I could also see how something like this would create a positive impression on visitors to view the region as "with it", "innovative" and "hip", all descriptors that would be attractive to people considering relocating or investing in the area.

Well done Washington, kudos to you all. I wish you the best of success with this and will share your work with others widely.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Inspiration from Chief Clarence Louie

Last night, the Pacific Northwest Economic Development Conference kicked off with a Welcome at the Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Center in Osoyoos. The organizers had asked Chief Clarence Louie to do a welcome to the delegates and I think I speak for all of us in saying that it was a big hit.  I found his comments refreshing, open, honest, and at times humorous. He sat on the front stage and casually addressed the group clarifying his position and approach as the leader of the Osoyoos Indian Band. He admits that his message isn't shared by everyone but he says if leaders try to please everyone, they end up accomplishing little. His focus as leader is to provide jobs and economic prosperity to not only the members of the band, but to area workers. He believes that economic salvation is the only way forward for First Nations communities and with it, opportunities to fund social programs and environmental causes will be available without continuing the dependent relationship with the federal government.

I found many of his comments validated the entrepreneurial spirit that I was brought up with at home and was further en cultured in being raised in Alberta.  And, his messages also validated reading in sustainability where we now recognize that to be sustainable means we cannot view profit as a dirty word or economic health as secondary to environmental and social health. Economic gains do not have to come at the loss of other forms of prosperity and indeed, we are often in a better position to foster sustainability efforts when our communities are not in poverty. He commented for example, that investments in cultural and environmental programs are the norm at Nk'Mip. He said it is one of the things he likes the best about making money for the band, it helps them to invest back into these sorts of initiatives.

If you get the opportunity to read some of his talks, watch a YouTube speech or see him in person - I think you will learn from his messages and experience and even if you don't agree fully - he may challenge your thinking (which is healthy for us). If all else fails and you don't agree with his message - I think he would say "that's democracy"!  Thanks for sharing your messages Chief Louie.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Getting people to stop on route - the ice cream factor

Ice cream is magic.  Last summer when I was in Okanagan Falls, I stopped at a very well marked venue called Tickleberry's just south of town. Yesterday on route down to Osoyoos, the place once again caught my eye and I thought I would do a post on the magic stopping power of ice cream. Sugar addicts can perhaps relate, but once a person gets a hankering for a taste of sweets like ice cream, it can lure a car off the highway as fast as a washroom break. For those who are struggling to try and get people to stop, a well positioned and run ice cream venue can do the trick - I've seen it work in Chemainus, Cochrane, AB and other areas.

Tickleberry's has a large building that houses an impressive collection of local arts and culinary treats and room for the long line ups that inevitably arrive each summer. There were at least 6 staff behind the ice cream counter yesterday serving generous amounts of ice cream to visitors - and in the time I browsed around the store - the line up was 12 people deep (Sunday at about 5 pm in June). When I was in the line up, two little boys were playing beside me and I realized that the store had thought about the store experience from the little guys perspective - they were looking at little bears in windows that were positioned about 2.5 feet high along the counter.  This was keeping the little guys occupied while waiting in the line up, likely a popular move with the parents.

Too bad my flight back is at 6 am on Thursday, likely a bit early for ice cream anyways! Stop in sometime when you are in the region or think about whether or not your area could use a well positioned ice cream shop to get visitors to stop for a bit = then lure them to explore or play a bit while they are out of the car.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Vancouver Island Visitor Center

Well, maybe it is because I am traveling so much these past few weeks but today I had a meeting up in Courtenay which was held at the new Vancouver Island Visitor Center - one of the icon centers in the province and I must say - WOW. This is a case study of every best practice that exists in visitor center development - I was super impressed.

The center is well signed and located just off the main entrance to the City and is identified by a symbol of the area - a plane. There is lots of parking and the facility is impressive in size and scope - inviting to say the least.  Inside, there is a nice new meeting room for community use, an open concept space with a large counter area for staff, a shopping space for local gifts, an area for computer searches and wireless access, couches and a fireplace for relaxing or reading...and most impressive - in the back area there is an interactive area that profiles the region for the visitor.  The displays profile the amenities of the area including wildlife, recreation and sports, agriculture and sustainability initiatives. When we were there the place was full of visitors in all corners of the venue. As we enjoyed our BBQ on the outdoor patio, I couldn't help but wonder how impressive it must be for visitors to arrive here and form a positive impression of the area. I also wondered, as I often do, about the inconsistent experience that visitors must have though as they travel throughout the province to different VIC's as they range in quality sometimes quite drastically.

It must have been a huge undertaking to accomplish this project, and I wish all those involved success with the venture and will definitely encourage my own guests this summer to stop in on route up island.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Locations and collections

When staying in Grand Forks, I chose to head to the Luna B and B for my accommodation. I used my iphone to google the location on my map and it brought me right to the front door. Talk about location of choice - they are situated right next door to the heritage center which also serves as a visitor information center (notice the trend of multi purpose spaces with nice visitor centers from my last post?).  I'll come back to the heritage center in a moment. While parking was a  bit of an issue, I was happy with my room and was particularly impressed at the trust shown to have visitors in a room with an impressive collection of antique science equipment.  I'd never seen this before in a room, but must admit, it was tastefully displayed and really fascinating to look at all the varieties of microscopes displayed.

Back to the heritage center - I am always impressed when communities elevate the importance of locating the visitor center in a building that shows off valued amenities.  The Grand Forks Visitor Center is located in a beautiful old heritage building made of stone. It is well kept and presented and shares space with a gallery and what looks to be like other offices (like most centers, it was closed when I arrived - we have to find ways to solve this - like QR codes?). Accessible, impressive, multi tasking, and large enough to serve visitors - some key best practices for visitor centers. Well done Grand Forks and Christina Lake... and have a great season.

I had about 20 people in my session at the BC Rural Summit where I did a workshop on how to identify and assess amenities for rural development. The participants were from rural communities all over BC and I must say, they were an absolute joy to work with. I had to leave early but I understand that the approach resonated with folks throughout the conference and I look forward to working with many of those I met on sorting out next steps for BC rural communities that are keen on the approach. Together we have lots to learn. I will post the handouts on my website when I finally get back home (still on route).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Innovation in wastewater as a resource

This week I had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful southern portion of the province for the BC Rural Summit in Grand Forks and Christina Lake. I always welcome the opportunity to head into this region and the organizers couldn't have chosen a better location for the theme of this year's conference on sustainability.

The first night there was a welcome hosted at the Christina Lake Arts Center. What an impressive facility for the community on so many levels. The center is another example of an innovative combination of a visitor information center which serves multiple purposes as an Art Center and an education facility on the local ecology. Green design is at the core of the facility - with a quote from their site "Green Building is the approach of the new Centre, with technologies such as super-insulation, heat recycling, passive solar, a Solar Aquatics System for waste water processing, geothermal heating and cooling, and environmentally based design that is sensitive to the surroundings. The buildings will become a destination in themselves, as people look for energy saving construction techniques to save $ and our planet."

I was lucky enough to get a tour of the Solar Aquatics System at the facility.  This system is integrated into the Center to turn human waste into a resource. It treats raw sewage and other wastewater with biological methods using plant and bacteria life- producing no odour, no chemicals and treating both liquids and solids.  The venue is impressive and I can see visitors remembering it fondly - and I do think it must create a positive impression of the innovation in the region and the care taken to protect the environment while doing business. As my tour guide said - they are probably one of the few venues that encourages visitors and locals to come by and use their facilities to keep bacteria levels in the system going!

Stop by for a visit when you are in the area, and borrow their ideas for those considering a new visitor center.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Introducing Terri MacDonald, BCRIC at Selkirk College

When the BCRIC's were created in BC, one of the first to reach their matching funds was the BCRIC in Rural Economic Development at Selkirk College. I had the good fortune to get to know and work with George Penfold, the original BCRIC. I benefited from his connections, his experience and his way of questioning rural development in the province. I am lucky to continue this working relationship with him now that he is on the island.

My good fortune continues as I have been getting to know Dr. Terri MacDonald, the new BCRIC at Selkirk. We had a good meeting together at the National Rural Policy Summit and are already brainstorming some potential collaboration (see above meeting photo!). First one is linking on a conference in BC next  year to address a core issue limited economic development in many rural areas of the province - the inability to attract and retain young adults into rural areas. We are planning to put in a SSHRC proposal to host a conference, likely in Golden, to bring together knowledge on this topic. Watch for more information and if it sounds like something you are keen to be involved in, let me know as we are currently inviting partners.  We also talked about having a series of research projects in her region that our Graduate students can be a part of. She was so impressed with Marc Sorrie, one of my current MA students that she said to send her some like him!  We also brainstormed projects and I shared with her one of my ideas that I floated around a bit last year - to offer the World's first Graduate degree in Amenity Based Rural Development out of the Kootenay region (which is a ripe laboratory for the model due to its population fluctuations and the natural and cultural amenities).

Watch for more but in the meantime, get to know Terri and her background more by reading about her position at Selkirk.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Think tank on rural development in Ottawa

Whew! Last week in Ottawa was packed with lots of valuable insights from those who gathered for the Second National Rural Policy Workshop in Ottawa. The full list of presentations is provided for you below but I thought I would make a few comments as well. Gathering people together from policy and research is a valuable activity. These two live in very different worlds but need one anothers work to effect long term, strategic change. I will post seperately on what I have learned about research influencing policy in a day or so, but suffice to say - these gatherings are a helpful place to start. We need to know one another, and develop relationships built on trust and recognition of the "world of the other" in order to ensure research has impact in decision making. Thanks to Dr. David Douglas and his team for hosting another wonderful event. I look forward to next year as CRRF has indicated this activity will continue and invites others to partner in the 2013 gathering again in Ottawa.

All of the presentations made at the 2nd national Rural Research Workshop (RRW) “Policy and Research in Community Investment” have been posted on the Workshop Web site: (Click on “Programme/Documents”.) My presentation is linked below for those interested.