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Thursday, 19 May 2011 14:16

Southgrow faces battle

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By Ric Swihart
Southern Alberta
SouthGrow Regional Initiative set up to boost economic development prospects across southern Alberta is facing a financial crisis.

Sandra Nelson of Stirling, SouthGrow chairman, said the organization is in good shape for 2011 because it concluded its budget allocations before the Alberta government’s Finance and Enterprise Department picked up its budget axe.

“It is a double whammy,” stated Nelson.

Alberta Finance and Enterprise reduced the maximum government funding to $75,000 from $100,000, and then increased the amount SouthGrow has to raise in order to get its share of provincial funding. In 2010, the province set its maximum for each of the regional initiative organizations at $100,000 a year. The initiative could get three provincial dollars for each dollar it raised from its 35-cent-per-capita assessment of the 27 member municipalities in southern Alberta. To get the maximum, it had to come up to $33,333 for a total allotment of $133,333.

This year, the maximum was reduced to $75,000 and the ratio cut to 2:1. SouthGrow had to raise $37,500 to get the province’s $75,000 for a total pot of $112,500. Next April 1, the ratio drops to 1:1, and SouthGrow will have to collect $75,000 to get the provincial share. This will total $150,000.

The other provincial decision was to kick SouthGrow out of the Finance and Enterprise office in the Provincial Building, and cut off secretarial and management services. That was to become effective April 1, but was delayed to June 1.

Nelson said that will force SouthGrow to hire an office person, and find new office space. Funding problems will likely force it into a home-based office.

Another major problem hit SouthGrow when the City of Lethbridge and County of Lethbridge pulled out of the initiative. Those municipalities provided a significant amount of membership fees. She thinks Lethbridge will depend on Economic Development Lethbridge alone.

Nelson said she feels the province remains a strong supporter of economic development in Alberta, “but it has taken the wheels off regional economic development.”

“We will have to play out this not knowing the future,” said Nelson. “I hope, for the sake of all combined, that we can keep the strength of being united in a region. The department’s cut is not a big budget item, but it puts a high burden on regional economic development.”

She said SouthGrow will be able to carry on with some economic development projects this year, but without the two Lethbridge members, it will have a huge impact on membership numbers, and could mean higher costs for the remaining 25 municipalities.

Project emphasis for the next year will be on the sustainability of the member communities, alternative energy and productivity.  With this work, SouthGrow intends to continue with its mission to accelerate and enhance quality of life, development and sustainability for the communities of the SouthGrow region.

“SouthGrow is certainly impacted by AFE’s reduction in advisory services and change in funding formula.” she said. “We are working with one of our MLAs to provide information on the impact of the changes to Minister Lloyd Snelgrove. Over the next year, we will continue to proactively communicate with our MLAs and the minister, and work with the other 12 REDAs in the province all together so that we can collectively emphasize the importance of sustainable regional economic development alliances as a means to diversifying Alberta’s economy and creating more stable economic growth.”

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