Future of enterprise regions in question
by Phil Ambroziak
“I think it will be much more effective to have these kinds of decisions made at a local level.”
Those were the words of Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison in the wake of the provincial government’s recent decision to no longer fund the 16 enterprise regions located throughout Saskatchewan. This is expected to have a tremendous impact on economic development at the local level, as groups such as 55 West Enterprise Region in Meadow Lake and Boreal West Enterprise Region in Beauval have always relied on a financial injection from the province for support.
“This basically means there is no more operation here,” remarked Corey Bowers, director of economic development at 55 West Enterprise Region.
Although its office is located in Meadow Lake, 55 West Enterprise Region also serves the RM of Meadow Lake, as well as communities as far west as Pierceland and as far east as Big River.
The various enterprise regions have traditionally received a portion of their funding through Enterprise Saskatchewan, a provincial agency designed to overcome barriers to growth and to find or create new economic development opportunities. Bowers said 55 West received at least 80 per cent of its operating budget from the province with the remaining funds coming from other agencies and membership fees.
“That’s not enough to keep us going,” he said.
Harrison, who serves as the province’s minister of enterprise, was quick to deflate rumours the recent funding decision meant Enterprise Saskatchewan as a whole would become a thing of the past.
“There is no dismantling of Enterprise Saskatchewan – that’s not true,” he said.
Reiterating the government’s cost-cutting decision, Harrison said the enterprise regions would no longer receive provincial dollars as of April 1. He doesn’t believe, however, this means the end of groups such as 55 West and Boreal West.
“This is an area I am not directly responsible for – they are governed by local boards with reign over how that particular entity moves forward,” he noted. “We have increased municipal revenue sharing to $4 million across the province. Now, individual municipal governments have the ability to move forward as they see fit with regard to local economic development decisions.”
Bowers does not agree with this approach.
“A lot of the municipalities in our region are small communities of 300-400 people,” he said. “Many of them have little to no money to put into economic development and for us to ask them to fund us would be unreasonable.”
Harrison said Enterprise Saskatchewan will now put a stronger focus on economic development at the provincial level, something he deems as “more appropriate.”
According to its official website, the main goal of 55 West is to act as a leader in the growth of a diversified regional economy.
As for the future of the organization, Bowers said that remains a mystery.
“The board will be making a decision on whether we keep going, and we will take it from there,” he said. “They’re taking their time with it, as a lot of time and effort were put into this only to be taken away with no warning. It’s unfair for the province to put this on the municipalities’ shoulders.”
Doug Eddy, chair of the Boreal West Enterprise Region, said his organization has decided to react to the province’s decision in a positive manner.
“We had a board meeting last week where we decided the enterprise region would be non-existent as of April 1,” Eddy said. “We will, however, retain an innovation council on the west side that will use the same structure and mandate, but rely on the resources of the community and industry rather than the government. We decided to look to the future and take positive action.”