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Opportunity knocks?

The words ‘economic development’ are nebulous. They’re also easy to throw around.

“We need more economic development,” is the battle cry of nearly every political candidate, running for any level of government, during an election campaign.

The words roll easily off a politician’s tongue, but what does economic development mean, and how is it achieved?

It’s a simple question, but sometimes economic development can get bogged down in government. Strategic plans, case studies, consultants, open houses, mission statements, area structure plans, consultants, zoning, bylaws, consultants … all these administrative tools are important and certainly have their place in good governance, but sometimes opportunity can be overshadowed by process and procedure.

There’s an opportunity afoot in our region that our elected officials need to seriously explore. There is a movement taking shape, headed by Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw, to form a group to promote economic development around Villeneuve Airport. The plan is to form a sub-regional partnership called the Villeneuve Landing Network.

If it gets off the ground, the VLN would be comprised of various municipalities in the region, as well as chambers of commerce in the region, and Enoch and Alexander. The main catalyst for forming this partnership is Villeneuve Airport. Its potential as an economic driver for the region has long been acknowledged, and it has enjoyed some expansion and upgrades in recent years, but much more work needs to be done. The airport doesn’t even have a water line servicing it – a fundamental for development.

As Hnatiw rightfully notes, Villeneuve Airport is an underdeveloped regional asset, but if local partners spoke with one voice when promoting this part of the region to the world, more investment could be realized, and with investment comes jobs. Optimizing assets, investment and jobs – the true underpinnings of economic development.

This all sounds promising, but there’s still a big question that needs to be answered: How does VLN get the world’s attention? What sets the region apart from others?

One of the answers may lie in the Edmonton Airshow, which is held at Villeneuve Airport. The show is anticipated to attract some 50,000 visitors this year, and with them a marked economic benefit. The main organizer of the Edmonton Airshow, Richard Skermer, who is president and CEO of the event, wants to also feature air racing. The plan was to have a racing demonstration this year, but that had to be put on hold.

While air shows are an attraction, air races are on another level. One of the best air races on the planet is held annually in Reno. According to the Reno Air Racing Association, the Reno Air Races draw more than 150,000 spectators from around the world, generating more than $91 million in economic benefit to Reno’s economy.

Just imagine what the economic outcomes could be if not only the region, but the province, got on board and took a page or two out of Reno’s highly successful playbook.