In March, Big Lakes County applied for the Alberta Tourism Growth Innovation Fund (TGIF) for a third party expert to conduct a Visitor Friendly Assessment (VFA) in the county. On July 12, 2018, Alberta’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ricardo Miranda, notified Big Lakes County that the request had been approved in the amount of $45,000 under the Destination Development Support funding stream.
“As Minister of Culture and Tourism, I am proud to support projects like yours that contribute to the economic growth of Alberta’s tourism industry and improve the quality of experience for visitors and Albertans.”
The VFA will help Big Lakes County and other stakeholders in the area work together to enhance the visitor experience. The assessment will identify ways to improve: overall ambience and visual appeal, wayfinding and signage, quality of services and professionalism, public services and visitor amenities, and visitor information.
Expedition Management Consulting (EMC), a group that specializes in tourism and recreation, is conducting the assessment for both the summer and winter seasons. EMC will visit key sites and assets throughout the county: lakes, campsites, hotels, restaurants, events, museums, cultural and tourist sites, and various communities. EMC is working closely with the Big Lakes County Economic Development Authority on the project.
The move to do a VFA came out of Big Lakes County’s June 2017 tourism sector tour. Experts from within and outside of the county visited various assets and then held a strategy session. One key suggested starting point was to better understand the visitor or customer experience to inform our tourism plans and promotion.
Reeve Ken Matthews said, “We thank all of the companies and communities that supported our application. This assessment is a first step to gathering the information we all need to plan for tourism growth. Among other actions, we also intend to do an asset inventory and to collaborate with communities in the broader region since tourism is a shared interest and priority for every one of us.”
EMC will provide its findings and recommendations to Big Lakes County and other communities and companies involved in tourism on October 2nd, 2018 (1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.) at the Joussard Community Hall. Tourism stakeholders are invited and asked to RSVP.
High Prairie, April 24, 2018: Deron Bilous, Minister of Alberta Economic Development and Trade, mentioned Big Lakes County as a successful partner in the Community and Regional Economic Development Support (CARES) program on April 12th as part of the Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future. Big Lakes County was the first municipality that he referenced. He also mentioned Cochrane.
"In fact, there are a number of communities, especially in rural Alberta, where we see this money, I think, leveraged the most. What I love about the program and the reason that we’ve reprofiled money for this program is because of its success, and really the success of the program is founded on the fact that it’s local leaders – community leaders, municipal leaders – who identify their potential projects or ideas on how to diversify their economy and grow their economy. It really is local leadership that then comes to government and says: we need a partner. And, you know, we’ve been able to do that.
Now, I have a few different examples of some of the CARES stories. One of them, you know, is Big Lakes County proceeding with phase 2 of their diversification initiative. They received a significant amount of money. There are a number of indigenous communities that have received significant CARES dollars, and again the Chinese Benevolent Association for marketing and development. The town of Cochrane created a Cochrane dollar to help promote shop local, buy local."
Big Lakes County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) has received $170,265 of matching funds from the Community and Regional Economic Support (CARES) program, for phase II of its award-winning Diversification & Small Medium Sized Enterprises (SME) Support Initiative. Big Lakes received the third largest grant of all 62 projects that received support during CARES Intake 3. Big Lakes also received CARES funding in 2016 for phase 1 of the project. In phase I, the EDA worked closely with local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and sector experts to identify specific opportunities for economic diversification and growth at the industry and company levels.
Robert Nygaard, Big Lakes County Councillor and Chair of the EDA said: “The CARES program has been very important for our progress. It’s more than funding; it’s an investment and it’s a partnership. CARES has opened doors for us to expertise within government and industry. It’s a big deal that we received more support. It shows that we are on the right track.”
In phase I, the EDA brought together local companies and municipal partners with external sector experts through its tours and follow-up sector strategy sessions. Nearly 30 new people have become ambassadors, resources, and supports for the county’s local economic development efforts. Big Lakes County's project won a national marketing award for its sector profiles and appeared in a dozen positive news stories. Local companies are responding positively to the county’s renewed efforts and municipal partners are keen to work with BLC as a result.
Donald Charrois, Big Lakes County Councilor and EDA committee member said: “Lisa, Jordan and the team are doing a great job. We have a broadband project, we’re looking into hemp, and we have these CARES projects that allow us to gather information and make better decisions. When we started economic development we wanted to stand out and be on the radar. We are now.”
In phase II, the EDA will: (1) address phase I gaps, (2) realize the opportunities for diversification and growth that emerged as high-potential priorities during phase I, and (3) improve overall SME supports based on lessons learned after one year of project implementation. Expected outcomes include increasing investments and job creation in emerging sectors such as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Tourism, and in traditional sectors such as Agriculture and Energy; improving economic development understanding and capacity; improving collaboration; increasing local SME investments; and attracting new investments in energy, agriculture, ICT, and tourism. Stakeholders determined these priorities together in phase I.
Ken Matthews, Big Lakes County Reeve and EDA committee member said: “Government and Industry representatives tell us that they are impressed and to keep up the good work. They are using us as a best practice example. This is good for the region. As was said in a recent presentation about our projects, we may have 6,000 ratepayers, but when it comes to economic development we see 18,000 residents. We partner with local businesses and neighbours in these projects.”
The EDA has received funds to engage a research analyst and subject matter experts to join action groups (or task forces) that the EDA has created for each priority identified in phase 1. Each group, supported by the research analyst and the EDA, will consist of the EDA executive director, one BLC staff lead, one BLC Councillor, local SMEs, subject matter experts, and, in some cases, representatives from neighboring municipalities and other partners. The proposed action-group model will build capacity and create a stronger culture of economic development within Big Lakes County and region.
For more information on our sector tours or to download a copy, click here: https://www.biglakescounty.ca/resources/statistics/sector-profiles or visit the Big Lakes County Administration Building 5305-56 Street, High Prairie, Alberta.