Beyond the boom-and-bust in Northwest B.C.

If you have thoughts on the northern economy, Local News Fellow Dan Mesec is ready to listen

The state of the economy in Northwest B.C. is on everyone’s mind. A lot of the recent media coverage has been focused on big ticket resource extraction projects, but that’s only part of the story. Although resource extraction remains a staple of northern economics, a shift in the local economy is already underway.

Since moving to Smithers nine years ago, I’ve been fascinated witnessing the ways in which communities in the north have survived economic hardships throughout the decades. The boom-and-bust cycle is well known in this part of Canada, yet many communities have found a way to survive. Why is that? What else is driving our local economy?

Over the next few months, as one of The Discourse’s local news fellows, I want to dig deeper into these questions and more. I want to talk to you about what happens to communities when major resource projects don’t move forward. I want to know how rural communities are building economic resilience.

When I made the decision to stay in Smithers, I did it under the notion of by any means necessary. I didn’t understand at the time that was sort of a mantra for many in the North. People fall in love with the lifestyle and sheer beauty of the wild all around and never leave. Others stay because they are born and bred and can’t imagine living anywhere better.

Last week I launched a survey on Facebook to ask Northerners about what keeps them in the Northwest? What gives people hope for the future of our local economies and what issues are important to them?

Family, natural beauty, culture, land, lifestyle, affordability, potential for LNG, air, water, salmon — these are just a few of the reasons why many in the Northwest have made this place home. But, while years of boom-and-bust in rural, isolated communities have caused considerable uncertainty and anxiety for many, there is still hope in the strength of community.          

These word clouds illustrate which words collectively appeared the most in participants responses.

During my time in the North I’ve witnessed the town of Kitimat’s local economy nearly collapse. Another community, Smithers, only 300 kilometres away, remained relatively stable, despite a global economic recession. How can we encourage and support all communities to build resilient local economies? How is the local economy being diversified by the people who live here?

The answer may lie in local innovation; agricultural co-ops, small scale logging operations, renewable energy projects, value-added manufacturing, an expanding tourism industry and an emerging tech sector are quickly becoming a reality for many northern communities, but the full picture is still unclear.

Hearing as many perspectives as possible and facilitating meaningful community dialogue is  my priority for my reporting. I want Northerners to feel more informed about the emerging shifts in their local economies and build a sense of hope for the future of our communities.

To do this, I need to hear from you and there are a couple ways to do this:

Take part in this short survey to give me a better sense of how you feel about the local economy and what stories are missing from the current coverage. You can also join me at a listening post event in your community over the next couple of weeks, or follow along with my reporting here, or on Facebook.

I’ll be in Smithers at Two Sisters Cafe on March 29 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Come on out and tell me what gives you hope for the future of your local economy?

I look forward to hearing from you. [end]


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