By Stan Ashbee
Westwind Weekly News
SouthGrow is an economic development alliance of over 20 south central Alberta communities committed to working together to achieve prosperity for the region. Representing over 170,000 people, SouthGrow is committed to assisting communities, organizations, businesses and people in the region to further their economic development goals and to maintain a high quality of life.
According to Executive Director Peter Casurella, SouthGrow has four quarterly board meetings, which has representation from each of the communities it serves. A meeting was held recently in Stirling.
“They get together four times a year to provide oversight over the organization and accountability to the taxpayers for the dollars being spent on regional initiatives and to talk about important issues affecting all of us. It’s a chance to get together for everybody from the region and have some presentations that are impactful and tackle some of those big ideas, so the executive committee – which is five of the board members that meet every month – can really have some direction on the
big issues. They’re the ones that do the majority of the month-to-month work,” Casurella explained.
Casurella noted the group had a few big discussions at the most recent meeting. “The first was we had a presentation from Barry Morishita, he’s the mayor of Brooks and he’s the president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA). Barry came to talk to us abut regionalism. The basic idea about regionalism is – it’s a growing awareness communities are much more sustainable and much more efficient if we start to work together more. We’re just not talking about collaborating with the level we do with SouthGrow – like all pooling our money together for economic development,” he said.
“We’re talking about sharing administrative services, sharing community equipment and even starting to integrate administrations between different communities.”
Casurella added Morishita had been on a big push for a number of years with his council in Brooks. “They originally started with five municipalities and they all had this idea they would all integrate into one giant municipality.”
“They had a very positive vision about it,” he said, adding it was more about quality of life rather than being about protecting your own backyard. That initiative had been going for the past few years, but fell through and it was the first time in Alberta municipalities tried. Usually, municipalities are forced to amalgamate, where this time municipalities chose to. Morishita hopes to bring this initiative back to the table in the future, Casurella added.
Exhibition Park Chief Operating Officer Mike Warkentin was also a presenter at the quarterly meeting. The Lethbridge-based organization is an ag society. “They’re trying to do a huge expansion,” Casurella said. “Basically, replacing their pavilions that are old with new world-class pavilions with meeting spaces” – which Casurella added is important for regionalism.
According to Casurella, southern Alberta is attempting to create an ecosystem that promotes the growth of the ag food economy in the area. “It’s our bread and butter,” he said. There is a global demand for high quality food, so the idea is to increase production with value-added processing to be a world player. Currently, potato manufacturing is one major player and other value-added crops will be coming soon. There’s also research and development happening at the University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge
“We need a world class venue to host and showcase the work going on in southern Alberta,” he noted.