It was more than a decade ago when Michael Beier left his hometown of Consort to attend university in Calgary. With dreams of a career in Engineering, Beier studied hard at the U of C and participated in clubs.
It was when his studies moved to practical learning, that he discovered there would be more desk work and not enough hands-on tasks in his chosen career and Beier had a big decision to make.
“Then it got into more practical stuff and there was not as much hands-on as I would have liked,” he said, when he had the opportunity to work as an engineer.
Back home in Consort, his parents were looking to retire from their welding business to spend more time with their grandchildren.
“There wasn't a lot of the hands-on work that I wanted. So, it was keep doing that or come back and take over the family business,” said Beier.
So, following in his father's footsteps, Beier returned to Consort. His dad too, had traveled to Calgary for school, but wanted to raise his family in the country and had returned to Consort and started up a welding/construction company.
It was a big decision for Beier to make, but not an overly difficult one.
“I didn't care for the city. Here, you know your neighbours, I have the hands-on work and I chose that over the city,” said Beier, who had picked up a couple of trades tickets along the way and started studying welding through RAP (Registered Apprenticeship Program) while in high school.
Beier, who has been running the welding shop now for 10 years is an example of the people that Special Areas' Return 2 Rural initiative is hoping to attract to the region - young adults and families.
“In 2009, focus groups were formed to look at ways of keeping and bringing young people to our communities,” said Wanda Diakow, economic development officer for Special Areas No. 4.
R2R has been in place for more than a decade and so far, it has been showing some success.
“We've got one of the highest groups of young people,” she added.
One of the reasons for that success can be attributed to the installation of high-speed internet for the region, something Special Areas worked hard to get and did get some rural grant funding for.
R2R is an initiative founded by SAMDA Economic Partnership with founding members including Special Areas Board, MD of Acadia No. 34, Village of Empress, Village of Cereal, Town of Oyen, Village of Consort, Village of Veteran, Town of Hanna and Village of Youngstown.
Over the past decade, Beier has become a very active member of his hometown. Besides operating the welding business, he is also a volunteer firefighter, and is currently building a new house.
He has become involved in local politics and is the mayor of Consort.
“A friend, Quinton Flint, who was interim CAO of Consort and is now CAO in Coronation got me involved. I was hanging out with him at the last election and he told me we needed more young people to get involved and that I should put my name in the hat,” said Beier. “I got most of the votes, so was nominated and was named mayor.”
In addition, he is working on getting a small brewery up and running over the next few months.
“We'll be starting up in June. We've got the equipment and have a prototype lab set up,” said Beier, adding that the brewery will initially operate as a small 2,000-liter business.
“We're going to try it that way for the first year and see what people like,” he said. “We're starting up without a whole lot of debt. We'll start small and establish a small market share.”
Beier has nothing but good advice for any young adult considering moving to small communities such as Consort.
“There are more opportunities to get involved and shape the future of the community. You don't get that in the city. Your voice is more easily heard,” he said. “It's easier to start up a business and there's a more neighbourly atmosphere. “You know your neighbours and you've got people watching out for you.”