After my recent research into community economic development in Atikokan and Siene River First Nations (Ontario) in September, my travels will take me to Ely, MN this month to discuss similar economic potential with business and community leaders. Like so many other rural communities, this small rural community on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness managed by the USFS is at a crossroads of an aging demographic and lower patronage rates to the park resulting in fewer tourism dollars. Sulfide mining presents an opportunity both in terms of jobs, increased local business growth and a future for youth so that they may stay in the area. . It is a chance for communities, similar to Atikokan to survive. A central question that I will continue to explore in future posts is whether extractive industries are the only option for a community’s survival, particularly for the retention of its youth or other options available such as expanding environmental tourism or a blend of both? Check out a couple rural perspectives in these links here in Ely and MN
As the summer hiatus is winding down here in North America, I finished up some business and vacation travels that took me from the Midwest through parts of southern Ontario and Quebec into New England. What strikes me most when I pass through some of these small communities is their proximity to nearby tourist destinations and how little some have appeared to benefit economically from this. I wondered what sustainable community development from an economic perspective looks like if towns don’t benefit from these typically large “revenue-generators”. Where is the intersection of tourism and sustainable community development located and what does this symbiotic relationship look like? There are several perspectives and resources accessible here that can provide some intellectual momentum for finding these complex solutions.
Does rural economic growth differ depending on where you are or are the principles applicable everywhere? Last week I trotted up to Ontario to visit our neighbors to the north and begin an informal survey of some local communities in southern Ontario that include nearby First Nation communities. Does rural development, economically-speaking look the same as it does States-side? What constitutes sound, sustainable rural development for a community such as Atikokan for example? Is it different for this tiny rural town, nestled in the rugged, timber-covered lands on the northern boundary of Quetico Provincial Park in southern Ontario than one of its First Nation neighbors such as Seine River? Are they both dependent upon the tourism industry to bring visitors and their purchasing power or is the key to economic development the extraction of precious metal mineral resources such as gold deposits identified just 23 km north of Atikokan in 2009? Or does it come from Canadian provincial government intervention programs such as RED(LINK) to create entrepreneurship via local partnerships in technology, social enterprise and cultural? Is there a happy medium? What avenues exist for geographically-isolated First Nation communities such as Seine River with limited local assets such as a health center, education facility and a community center? This survey will look to tease out key factors in the coming months that these local communities can leverage to revitalize and strengthen their local human capital to link to regional and national economic growth and ultimately answer the question of what works best in rural economic development for these isolated communities?