The 100 Mile House Legion #260 canteen was packed with people when Cariboo Strong senior facilitator Kristin St. Jean was guest speaker at the South Cariboo Community Planning Council’s Christmas Round Table Meeting on Dec. 15.
They were there to learn about the Cariboo Strong economic development program and its outlook for the community while enjoying a free light lunch, coffee and tea.
St. Jean’s presentation explored answers to the question “how do we take a decline and turn it into an opportunity?”
“The whole purpose of Cariboo Strong is trying to find those opportunities and bring them together so we can build that resiliency in the communities.”
Cariboo Strong was formed through a partnership of the Cariboo Regional District, District of 100 Mile House, City of Williams Lake, City of Quesnel, District of Wells, Village of Clinton and the UNBC Community Development Institute.
The economic perspective St. Jean presented to this group noted the downturn in the provincial economy – particularly pine-beetle devastation to the fibre supply for forestry, the continuing volatility in the mining industry and the province’s focus on liquefied natural gas (LNG).
“The Cariboo economy is largely based on the resource sector, forestry and mining, and there are some upcoming economic pressures that are going to create uncertainty within the communities.”
The reduction in the forest industry’s allowable annual cut will likely have a significant impact on mills and logging, as will the downturn in copper prices through mines, so employment will also take a big hit in these communities, she added.
“That being said, there are some future perspectives and some future opportunities that we can start looking at, and these are some of the discussions that we’ve started creating around Cariboo Strong.
“There are also some other large economic drivers – agriculture is a big one and tourism, and you have the service sector … and the retail sector as well.”
St. Jean explained as we know these declines are coming, it is important to have a plan in place with some momentum in moving forward on diversification.
Cariboo Strong has been discussing these issues and opportunities with exploring new markets based on this current perspective, including a growth in demand for food/protein, emerging water shortages, impacts of climate change and global human migration.
Most people already realize the price of food is increasing, as is the global demand for food, she noted.
“The Cariboo has a robust history in cattle ranching, so maybe there are some opportunities to take product that is being grown [or raised] here, and then shipping it globally.”
However, St. Jean said not only is there demand globally, but also regionally.
“From the Cariboo, they want product grown in British Columbia and sent to their market.
“So, we have our global market up here, but how can we tap into [B.C.’s] regional markets as well? … And, it’s also at that regional market where you are going to maintain the higher price.”
“There is a customer base in the Lower Mainland that is desperate to get healthy, organic, locally grown food sources, and they are having a hard time finding it … and there is an opportunity to sell more higher-end product there.”
This way, when the price does go down globally, Cariboo food producers are still meeting a regional need and market for maintaining economic resiliency, she explained.
Visit www.cariboord.ca online (Services tab) for more information on Cariboo Strong and its economic data sources.