Economic development promotion is a slippery business, but most municipalities agree it’s worth some effort. How much effort – meaning mostly how much money – is the question.
The Regional Tri-Council group is committed, for the time being, to pushing the tourism promotion side of ec/dev. That’s been easy enough to do as long as the disaster recovery money lasts. It gets trickier when it runs out, which it is going to do this year.
“It could morph into something different when we have to provide 100 per cent of the funding,” says Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman. “But we’re committed.”’
‘We’ being the town, the M.D. of Lesser Slave River and the Sawridge First Nation.
The group is hoping and lobbying for continued provincial funding, promoting itself as a worthy successor to the regional economic development alliance (REDA) that the town and M.D. once belonged to. The province funds REDAs to 75 per cent, and the tri-council group would love to get its hands on some (or all) of that money. But so far, Warman says, no dice. For one thing, the province would prefer the REDA to cover a larger area, as most do. The recently-defunct Lesser Slave Lake Regional Economic Alliance once covered the entire Lesser Slave Region. It got smaller when the town and M.D. pulled out and smaller yet when Big Lakes County withdrew and joined the Peace Country group.
However, Warman says the tri-council economic development group doesn’t want to become part of a bigger regional organization – at least not for the time being. It has its hands full enough with the task of developing a tourism-promotion body that covers the territory of the three tri-council members. As noted, that’s been going fairly well; the group has taken over operation of the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) near Slave Lake, produced a regional tourism brochure, organized ‘familiarization’ tours and is encouraging local hotels to set up a destination marketing fund.
On that last point, Warman says it is really up to the hotels to organize it, since it will be their fund to use as they see fit. The project had been dormant for a year or so, but was revived at a recent meeting and looks to be moving forward. The DMF scheme has hotels charging a one per cent (or thereabouts) fee on room rates. The money gets pooled and is used to promote the area generally, or events specifically, with the idea of increasing tourist visits.
The VIC continues to be a focal point for tourism promotion efforts. It has a gift shop, and is manned for the season with people ready, willing and able to answer questions about the area’s attractions. Its role as an interpretive centre continues to develop. It has an outdoor display talking about wildfire in the area and offering advice on the FireSmart philosophy. An interpretive trail loop is still being developed. Warman says it will have signs along its length on the FireSmart message. He expects it to be completed this summer.
Further developments for the VIC under discussion include a connection to the town’s trail system. Warman says that will be on the agenda for the next Inter-municipal Committee meeting between the town and M.D.