© Brian McInnis - The Guardian
Delegates to the Georgetown Conference take an opportunity to take a tour of the village Friday with former mayor and conference delegate Peter Llewellyn as guide. With him as they stroll down mainstreet are Elizabeth Zemdegs of Bonavista, N.L.; Abby Pond, St. Stephen, N.B. and Robin Campbell of Kings County, N.S.
When blueberry and cable TV mogul John Bragg talks to some of his competitors they often wonder how he can make a living in rural Canada.
That's because they say they can't run businesses there, but for Bragg, it's a place where he sees great opportunity.
"We're not afraid to do it," he said.
The Oxford Frozen Foods and Eastlink CEO brought his experience and success building a business in a rural area to the second day of the Georgetown Conference for a panel discussion on how to do just that.
The three-day conference involves about 250 delegates gathered in Georgetown to discuss issues facing rural communities and ways to revitalize them.
Bragg practices what he preaches and lives in Collingwood, N.S. where his family has deep roots in the village of 300 people.
His grandchildren, who Bragg says live next door to him, are the seventh generation of his family to live there.
During the panel discussion, Bragg talked about the importance of cooperation in rural areas and used his community as an example where different levels of government worked together with his company to get things done.
That included bringing natural gas and an expanded water supply to the community.
"We're proud of where we are today and feel we have a lasting business," Bragg said.
For Corey Parsons, deputy mayor of Fortune, N.L. and one of the delegates, he saw the conference as an opportunity to get together with other people from Atlantic Canada to learn new ideas to take home to his community.
"There's some interesting success stories from other areas," he said.
Like many parts of rural Canada, Fortune, with its population of about 1,400 people, is facing out-migration and, as happened with other communities in his province, a moratorium on cod fishing hit the town hard.
Parsons said there seems to be a culture of dependency in parts of Newfoundland and Labrador as people wait for someone to come and solve their problems.
"The solution's got to be found within fortune," he said.
Wayne Noel, who travelled from St. Anthony, N.L. for the conference, had a different perspective as the chairman of a non-profit board that represents several communities in his area.
Those communities, with a population of about 15,000, were able to lease a shrimp allocation they held to someone else and collect a royalty that's worth about $1.5 million a year that they can reinvest.
"That's worked out very, very well for the region because as you might imagine after the cod moratorium our region was pretty much decimated," Noel said.
Instead of the communities in the region dying, they were able to use the money for a shrimp and crab processing plant that employs about 250 people year-round.
Noel said they also built an $8-million cold storage facility that can store up to 5,000 pallets of product that gets shipped every two weeks by container ship.
"It's a model for other rural communities, if they can get their hands on such an allocation as we have," he said.
With many of the conference presenters talking about things rural communities could to improve their situations, Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths took the opposite approach by telling delegates ways to kill their communities.
They were ideas he compiled in a book called 13 Ways To Kill Your Community as a sort of reverse psychology look at how people in rural areas undermine themselves and their neighbours.
Some of those methods Griffiths shared with the delegates were ignoring youth, shopping elsewhere, not cooperating, living in the past and not taking responsibility.
A few of those ideas were simpler than others, like not painting, which Griffiths said sounds superficial, but people are attracted to aesthetically pleasing things.
Griffiths said making a town look ugly gives the illusion that it's dying.
"No one will be attracted to your community and after a while that illusion of failure will become a reality," he said.
Another way to kill a community is to reject everything new, Griffith said and added a lot of communities have refused to try new ideas.
"That doesn't mean you have to come up with something so new that no one has ever conceived of it before," he said.
Barry Kyle's company, Industrial Rubber, is an example of a business that is trying something new by expanding from what it originally set out to do.
Bathurst, N.B. based Industrial Rubber used to supply a local mine with rubber products until that mine shut down.
That didn't stop the company, which found a new market in Labrador and built a plant there with a plan to have enough business to bring work to the Bathurst region.
"We've doubled our production and we've been really successful in doing that," Kyle said.
Even with that success, the company didn't stop there and Kyle was able to turn his connections and the company's experience into international military contracts for tires and tracks.
Now the company is getting ready to start building armoured vehicles in a joint venture with a German company that will start next year in a refurbished factory and add 35 jobs to the community.
"You never know where it's going to go or how it's going to go," he said.