Key stakeholders are considering Kaslo’s future. File photo

Key stakeholders are considering Kaslo’s future. File photo

Focus group sets sights on Kaslo’s economic future

A recent meeting centred on the direction of the village

John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Kaslo in 15 years will be a community that is more self-sufficient in its food and energy supply, is a welcome place for youth, and is supportive of local business.

At least, that’s the wish of a group of local politicians, business people and community leaders who spent an evening last month talking about Kaslo and area’s economic future.

The meeting participants were tasked with defining the factors that will help the project consultants lay a roadmap for where the community wants to go.

“Without knowing where we’re going, we’re definitely not going to be where we want to be in the future,” explained Eric Burton of Factor 5, the consultants hired to come up with the plan.

“This session is the most exciting part. This is where we decide what we want to come out of an economic development strategy. The strategy is putting all the pieces together based on what we choose tonight as a goal.”

Rather than define explicit strategies, the vision session was to set the directions and goals “that will live in the hearts and minds of the public,” Burton said.

The early evening meeting was broken up into several workshops, from describing the current state of Kaslo and the North Kootenay Lake area’s economy, to analyzing the forces acting on the region both locally and globally. The last step asked the 20 or so participants to come up with various scenarios for the future.

The discussion was general and wide-ranging, with the consultants using the participants’ ideas to draw up more specific plans.

Among the area’s strong points: a small but vibrant agricultural sector; a small but successful craft manufacturing base; house construction, forestry and tourism. The beauty of the area and its attraction for people wanting to get away from larger centres was also considered a major driver of the economy.

“They’ve come to this area for a reason,” said Mayor Suzan Hewat. “And they invent ways to help themselves stay here, because they love it. The natural beauty.

“There are some who come and want to change it to what they left, but they quickly leave because they realize that’s not going to fly.”

“We have to encourage people to do things that locals will buy into, so we can keep that ‘shop local’ mentality,” she added.

But there are drags to the economy as well – from resource extraction without local ‘value-added’ industries, to an insecure power supply, to out-migration from the cities putting upward pressure on housing prices, pushing young families out of the market.

But the group balked at implementing sweeping change or dramatic projects to enhance Kaslo’s economic future. Several people spoke of the need to make change, but in small, incremental steps.

“It’s probably the best way to go,” said Bob Gazzard. “In a 10-year scenario, small steps are going to be fairly significant, but not so huge it changes the demographics and the ‘small-town-we-love-it-here’ atmosphere.”

“I see a big changing of the guard now,” added Jeff Davie. “I can give you examples of several businesses who have younger people now getting involved. That’s very encouraging, and as we make more changes, all those things will make it more appealing to bring youth back or appeal to a new set of people. I love where we are going, I think this community is incredible.”

“Small increments,” agreed Dianna Ducs of Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism. “Even with tourism you don’t want some big tourism product dropping in, and just shifting the kind of people who want to live there from the reason the current people do live there.

“You hear people say, ‘we want an airport.’ Well, you may want to be careful what you wish for. We benefit from our lack of accessibility and that will create slow, small change.”

Throughout the meeting, participants also cautioned about development at the cost of the environment.

“The asset we have is our nature, the environment,” said Cloe Bayeur-Holland. “We will go in the wrong direction if we start touching on that environment that creates the world we live in, that’s why we are here. So I think the wrong direction would be sacrificing the environment in which we reside.”

“If we give that up for the almighty dollar, or for blind promises of a better school or hospital, the payout in the end is not worth it,” said moderator Sarah Sinclair.

In the end, the participants outlined in broad strokes what they wanted for Kaslo in the year 2035: using Kaslo’s world class internet connectivity to enhance opportunities; support for and a variety of local businesses; a community that is self-reliant, with many volunteers that are active and engaged; improvements to the community’s energy production to make it more stable; improvements to food storage infrastructure, so agricultural produce can be exported to market; economic activity that both draws from and protects the environment; youth leaving for education, but coming back with critical skills the community needs; more businesses using the co-operative model; protection of historic resources in the community.

Factor 5 will work to develop the ideas presented at the meeting into a proper economic development strategy and marketing plan, that will reflect where the community wants to go for the next 10 to 15 years. That will be presented to the community in the months to come.

In the meantime, Area D Director Aimee Watson summed up the feelings of the group in her closing remarks.

“We are living in a blessed place, with blessed people – I’m not religious, but I love you all,” she said, smiling. “It sounds really weird… but we’re in this together, and you give me hope we’ll get through – not just ‘get through’ – but we’ll soar.”

– Valley Voice