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Supporting business vitality in rural Alberta communities

Since 2008, the Rural Development Division (RDD) at Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development has invested over $475,000 to enhance community economic development in rural communities through the Business Vitality Initiative or BVI. Participating communities included Acme, Castor, Coronation, High Level, Hinton, Olds, Peace River, Rocky Mountain House, Smoky Lake, Smoky River MD (as several communities), Strathmore and Vulcan. 

The BVI is an assessment tool and action process that helps communities assess their capacity to work with and support entrepreneurs, and to foster small business growth. It was created by the Centre for Innovative & Entrepreneurial Leadership or CIEL in British Columbia, and brought to Alberta through a RDD pilot project. The success of the pilot led to further investment through the Division’s former Rural Community Adaptation Grant Program, to support the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) in making the BVI accessible to more rural communities in Alberta.

Based on both the success of the BVI and the key learnings from a comprehensive review of the initiative, the division supported the development of a stand-alone economic development tool called Business Vitality Alberta (BVA). Any rural community can utilize the BVA for free without the need or expense for outside consultants or facilitators, as a full range of user friendly resources have been created including a training manual and video, sample survey, and results spreadsheet. BVA is available on the AUMA’s website.

Further information and key findings are available in a study, The State of Business Vitality in Rural Alberta. This study determined the key findings and success factors for communities based upon a comprehensive review of the BVIs that have already taken place in rural Alberta. It also examined emerging factors such as buy local/invest local, aging friendly communities, the use of social media as a business tool, and regional vs. community specific initiatives. A summary article and the full report are available on the RDD web page.

This investment in the BVI has resulted in the implementation of a broad range of local community projects. These have included initiatives to support regional tourism and visitor attraction, downtown beautification and revitalization, promotion of local business opportunities, mentorship programs and youth initiatives, and buy local programs. One specific example that was recently announced is one of Olds’ buy local initiatives Everything Olds

For further information on the Business Vitality Initiative, the new Business Vitality Alberta tool, or the State of Business Vitality in Rural Alberta report, contact Colin Gosselin, senior project coordinator with the Rural Development Division, at 780-968-3518.

(Originally published in the August 19 issue of Agri-News - a news package published each Monday that has information of interest to Albertans on agriculture, food and beverage production, marketing, research, provincial events and policy, and home gardening.)

Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development