By Korie Marshall

Northern Development Initiative Trust is offering more funding to northern communities this year, and the current trend is that more of it is coming to the Prince George region – including McBride and Valemount.

Janine North, CEO of NDIT, says the Trust approved funding for 26 projects last year in the Prince George Region, a significant increase over the 10 projects approved in 2012. That is about $1.2 million approved last year, compared with only $134,000 the previous year, an 800 per cent increase. Part of the increase is that more projects applied, but North says it is because the communities chose to combine their funding accounts. She says that made more grant money available, because less were saving up for a big project, and the fund was able to spend the five percent it had available for granting.

This year, the Trust has upped the total amount available for granting. The Trust’s capital investment base has been performing well, so the board recently decided to up the grant amount from five to seven percent of the total fund. With that increase, North says they are hoping for even more projects to come in. Eleven have already been approved for the Prince George region this year.

Valemount and McBride are two of 20 communities that will receive up to $20,000 each for this year’s Business Facade Improvement program. Launched last year, the funding allows communities to partner with local businesses to enhance their visual impact and economic viability.

North says both villages have applied and will likely receive approval shortly for $8,000 each for Grant Writing Support (up from $7,500 in previous years), and $50,000 each for Economic Development Capacity Building (up from $35,000). Valemount currently has an economic development officer, but the acting officer in McBride chose not to renew her contract recently. The Economic Development funding can be used for an economic development officer or to provide programs and services.

Valemount has also been approved for another Local Government Management Intern, but McBride did not apply this year. The two villages shared an intern last year, with the intern spending the first six months in Valemount and the final six months in McBride. Katy Fabris, a Planning graduate from UNBC worked in Valemount, and then moved to McBride, but she has since accepted a post with NDIT. Chief Administrative Officer Eliana Clements says another intern is working with McBride until the end of April.

Clements says McBride has also applied for the Small Town Love program this year, but they haven’t heard a decision yet. Valemount participated in the pilot program last year.

Community halls and recreation facilities will also see more funding this year. Previously the Trust offered a maximum of 33 per cent funding, but that has been increased this year to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $30,000. Right now, community halls and recreation facilities can only access that grant program once, but that may change. North says next year is the 10th anniversary of the Trust, and many facilities have applied, so they may be starting to look again.

“This trust is sustainable,” said North, “and we think that in the long term, buildings and recreation facilities need to be kept sustainable, so you may see the board invite these facilities again to come to the Trust.” She says the board wants to give all the facilities a chance to apply at least once before they decide on any changes.

NDIT was created by the province in November 2004 to foster economic development and job creation in central and northern BC. By legislation, its investments must fall within 10 primary investment areas: agriculture, economic development, energy, forestry, mining, Olympic opportunities, pine beetle recovery, small business, tourism and transportation.

In February, the NDIT board of directors decided to raise the annual grant amount from five to seven per cent of the value of the trust, meaning a total of $11.4 million will be available to local governments, First Nations and non-profits in central and northern BC in 2014. Since its inception in 2005, the Trust’s $185 million capital base has averaged a 7.5 per cent annual rate of return, and has grown to more than $200 million. The board is now confident the capital base will keep track with inflation and be sustainable in the long term for northern communities.

NDIT says it has approved $6.1 million for 222 economic development projects across the region in 2013, with the board approving 99 per cent of the application submitted. It says 72 per cent of its funding goes to communities with less than 5,000 people.

“We love to get money out,” says North. “It is so needed in terms of quality of life and community, and making the places people want to come to work and live with their families. It helps in small increments.”