Fort St. James’ mayor and council were visited by Marleen Morris of the Community Development Institute from UNBC at the June 12 council meeting
Morris spoke to council about some of the work the Institute is doing, including how communities can prepare for the upcoming changes in the north with the increase in resource development in the area.
“We live in a region that is well-endowed with natural resources,” said Morris.
The institute was established in 2004 with a board mandate to look at community capacity and community development.
The institute has projects in 50 northern communities working with industry and non profits.
Morris talked about the changes taking place in the north today, and the challenges of a boom and bust cycle associated with resource-based economies.
She referenced W.A.C. Bennet’s development of the north and how much it changed the area, saying we are “on the cusp of the most significant retooling of communities and economies since the 1950’s.”
Morris said communities and the region have to try and be strategic along a number of fronts and we are already beginning the construction phase of the three-phase boom.
“Quite frankly, we’re running to catch up,” said Morris.
While it is too late to try and train the necessary people for most of the positions in the construction phase, she said the operations phase should be our new target for training up local workers to maximize local opportunities.
She also said it is important to leverage community support before approval of projects, to ensure communities get factored into the plans and the opportunities.
She also said it is important for communities to develop the services and quality of life amenities which will help attract and retain workers, as there will be a global competition for the workforce.
While there are some serious challenges ahead, Morris was hopeful with the right approach, northern communities can come out ahead.
“If we use this time intelligently and strategically we can do this in our communities,” she said.
One of the keys will be to focus on the next generation, producing healthy mothers, health babies and provide good preschools.
“We have to graduate more people from high school than we are in the north,” said Morris.
“We have to start now,” she said. “Let’s not miss a beat.”