Phase one of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) Economic Development Strategy is underway and counties council was given an update on its progress when it met on May 22.

Paul Blais, Vice-President of MDB Insight, the firm responsible for developing the strategy, presented the report, which is titled “From Action to Change”.

“There’s been a lot of positive change to the economy since 2014,” Blais told council.

The current project builds upon a previous strategy from 2014.  Blais said there is a more positive attitude in the counties about business prospects now than there was then.

“There’s a bit of a rural renaissance in Ontario,” said Blais, in reference to increased interest in economic development in areas outside major cities.

The first phase of the new economic development strategy for the UCPR will be developed from June to December and January.  A key part of it is the so-called SOARR assessment.  That stands for strengths, opportunities, aspirations, risks, and results.

Strengths include Prescott-Russell’s Franco-Ontarian heritage, tourism, and culture.  Opportunities that should be developed include a local food hub, a waterfront development plan, and population growth in the eastern part of the UCPR.  Blais said the western part, which is close to Ottawa, is growing rapidly, while growth in the eastern municipalities is slower.

Some of the aspirations listed in the report are attracting and retaining talent, developing tourism destinations, and a collaborative spirit.

“Entrepreneurs are the driving force of your community,” said Blais.

“You’ve held well,” he said and noted other regions are struggling more than the UCPR in that respect.

The report lists that risks involving economic growth in the counties are challenges involving incomes, out-migration, and disparities in the level of education and employment.

Blais said that one way of growing the population and local economy is to target people who want to relocate away from major cities and promote the advantages of living and working here.  He said Prince Edward and Hastings counties have developed successful programs aimed at attracting residents from the Toronto area.

Results that the economic development strategy wants to achieve are a reduced average age of the population across the region, and increased population and workforce growth in the eastern part of the counties.

La Nation Mayor François St-Amour was very pleased with the plan outlined in the report because it indicates specific goals.

On the issue of encouraging entrepreneurship, he said there is too much NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard) in some communities from residents who say they support economic development but do not want it near their own properties.

“I wish that would stop,” he said, and added it has been an issue with zoning changes for business plans by entrepreneurs in La Nation.