Under the BC Rural Dividend Program, the Government of British Columbia is providing $100,000 to the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce, Doug Routley, MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan, announced on March 21, on behalf of Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

The Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce will use the rural dividend grant to develop a homegrown strategy for economic prosperity on Gabriola Island.

Gloria Hatfield, President of the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce said, “this is unprecedented support that our business community is receiving from the Province and the Regional District of Nanaimo, as well as from organizations such as Community Futures, Island Coastal Economic Trust and Gabriola’s own Wave Consulting.

“With it the businesses and entrepreneurs of our island – from farmers to home-based businesses to shopping mall owners – have worked together to write a made-on-Gabriola economic development plan focused on addressing the needs specific to our island life and creating a more robust economy that represents the needs and culture of Gabriola, Mudge and Decourcy Islands.”

Hatfield explained an Economic Development Advisory Group (EDAG) for Gabriola has been formed to guide the process and ensure that the economic development services provided are done in a way that reflects and represents the Gabriola community.

“This voluntary group will also be responsible for implementing the goals and activities outlined in the Gabriola Island Economic Development Plan and are in the process of hiring a Community Economic Development Officer [CEDO].”

The CEDO will perform the bulk of the implementation activities outlined in the Plan, as well as work with the EDAG to develop a sustainable approach to community economic development for the region.

“How exciting is that? An incredible opportunity for us!”

Routley said, “While Gabriola Island is one of B.C.’s top destinations to visit and live, its residents and businesses face unique challenges.

“This BC Rural Dividend grant will help the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce in its ongoing work to promote economic development and develop new markets.”

The formation of the Economic Development Advisory Group began in late 2016, when the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation NEDC and Tourism Nanaimo were dissolved, meaning no one off Gabriola Island was promoting tourism and economic development on behalf of Gabriola, Mudge, and Decourcy Islands.

As Hatfield explained, the Gabriola Chamber stepped in to ensure there was still someone working on those objectives.

In 2016 that came with a $1,000 per month for six months funding from the RDN. The Chamber was also provided with a $10,000 RDN grant to develop an economic development strategic plan for Area B.

The RDN Board approved a three-year period, with the Chamber receiving $29,925 for economic development services for the 2017 fiscal period ending March 31, 2018, and then $65,000 per year for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

For the taxpayers of Gabriola, there will be no increase to taxes, as these were funds already being budgeted and spent on the now dissolved NEDC.

The Rural Dividend funding is part of nearly $8 million in 58 project grants being awarded to eligible local governments, First Nations and not-for-profit organizations through the BC Rural Dividend Program. Rural dividend grants help fund projects that will stabilize rural economies. Grants can be up to $100,000 each, or up to $500,000 each for partnership projects. Donaldson said, “Government is following through on its commitment to help rural communities navigate changes that have impacted local economies, by supporting local business development and creating new partnerships to promote shared prosperity. These rural dividend grants are bringing positive change to rural communities throughout B.C.” As part of Budget 2018, the BC Government committed to extending the $25-million-per-year rural dividend to 2020-21. The rural dividend is one aspect of government’s rural development mandate, which is committed to making rural communities more resilient.