McBride economic development officer, Karen DubÔ©, introduces speakers for the Agriculture Panel at the Sept 14th Economic and Community Development Forum/ SPENCER HALL

By: Spencer Hall, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Goat News

Local government officials and non-profit leaders gathered in the Dunster Schoolhouse on September 14th for an economic development forum hosted by the Village of McBride.

The event kicked off at 9am with a presentation by Christina Doll with Pacifican” a federal regional development agency in B.C. that helps business owners navigate federal funding programs.

The next presenter was Clint Fraser with the Northern B.C. Tourism Association, a non-profit organization funded by government that aims to work sustainably to enhance the tourism industry across the region. Fraser told attendees that tourism is on its way to recovery after being one of hardest hit sectors during the pandemic.

“In some cases we’re seeing our numbers month over month, year over year, higher in 2023 than they were pre-pandemic,” Fraser said, adding that tourism in Northern B.C. is worth about $1.2 billion annually.

General manager of Community Futures Fraser-Fort George, Susan Stearns then spoke to attendees about the variety of programs the association offers, including small loan programs and one-on-one business coaching.

During lunch, which was prepared by the Dunster Fine Arts School Society, participants had the option of touring the Dunster Station Museum.

After the tour, Anna Peasgood with Northern Development Initiative Trust informed the crowd about the variety of projects the organization provides funding for, encouraging attendees to “consider the art of what is possible.”

Next up was a local forestry panel composed of Craig Pryor with the Valemount Community Forest, Ray Thiessen with BRKH Custom Woodwork, and Jian Hui, an associate professor in wood engineering at UNBC. 

After the panel, Emily Colombo with the provincial government’s regional economic operations branch spoke about the province’s StrongerBC program and asked attendees what issues they’re facing in their community, many of whom told her about the mounting pressures of inflation and lack of housing.

The forum wrapped up with an agriculture panel, hosted by Shona Thorne with Community Futures and Heather Meier with the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George. Thorne said there’s significant opportunity for locals interested in agri-tourism businesses, whether it be U-Picks, foraging tours, or farms that double as wedding venues.