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SouthGrow’s future of rural economic development

Posted on March 19, 2015 by Westwind Weekly

By Stan Ashbee
Southern Alberta Newspapers

SouthGrow, an economic development alliance of 20 south central Alberta communities, recently held its First Annual Economic Summit Mar. 5. The summit included round-table discussions on renewable energy, broadband Internet, food processing and production, and new business opportunities for the region, which includes the Raymond and Stirling area. Magrath has been in the process of discussing the benefits of joining and are leaning towards becoming a member too.
“It was really more of a brainstorming session around some of the current initiatives or issues facing southern Alberta,” said Greg Robinson, chair of SouthGrow.
Robinson noted the event wasn’t really about bringing a bunch of solutions to the table – it was more about asking questions to help guide the future direction of SouthGrow. “Trying to broaden our perspectives on these topics, with focusing on economic development in a large scale,” he said.
There were some stakeholders in attendance, Robinson added, who thought SouthGrow should look into something more specific with agriculture – in terms of perhaps more labelling, more plants, or more imports or exports.
“Of course, those are the things, which is why we wanted to have the meeting in the first place. To find out where to go from here,” said Robinson.
Basically, explained Robinson, the information collected and compiled from the meeting will be presented to the SouthGrow board and the information will be discussed to find projects online with the answers to some of the questions posed during the round-table discussions with stakeholders.
One example Robinson mentioned was in regards to rural broadband Internet.
“People had all sorts of questions on what the next project would be or what that would look like. Are we going into looking at running fibres through every municipality? Are we looking at offering services that would help say Coaldale or Taber or someone run fibre-optics through their town or are we looking at it as an education piece? What do people need to know, in terms of a municipality, when a municipality wants to expand the technology side of its infrastructure. If those sorts of questions are asked, then we know to go from there and develop a strategy and a plan from it,” he said.
Agricultural-wise, Robinson said, every table at the event seemed to have a slightly different look at the future.
“For example, what would be the needs in order for us to grow our agricultural-base in southern Alberta? What are our needs to do that? Some would say we need better access to export markets. Some were saying we need better access to marketing our product locally. You can see very different kinds of approaches to that. SouthGrow would say – OK, if that is the case, what are our options in terms of what SouthGrow can do in that specific question,” said Robinson.
Renewable energy was also a big one, Robinson added.
“We’ve done a lot of work in the past with renewable energy. We’re not short an abundance of wind in this area. Renewable energy has been a major focus for our members in the past but now we’ve kind of completed a fairly extensive toolkit.”
If any municipality wants to move ahead looking at renewable energy, Robinson explained, or if someone approaches a municipality and wants to put up wind turbine farms or whatever the case may be – a municipality would now have the tools and resources to go ahead and answer some of the questions.
Robinson also gave the example of bio waste or bio energy.
“It’s not new exactly but it’s certainly new to our area. That’s another area, where that could branch off to further develop with renewable energy but we’re not there yet,” said Robinson.

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