With its first CEO set to begin work next month, the Rural Manitoba Economic Development Corporation is nearing an opening date.
Margot Cathcart begins work at the Brandon-based organization May 3, at which time she’s intent on hitting the ground running.
"The board has done a fantastic job in putting vision documents for me to get started, but there’s a lot of work in my future," she said of the provincially funded organization.
They have an office space in mind and plan on ramping up operations as quickly as possible, hiring a staff whose size will depend on whatever final operational model they come up with.
As it stands, Cathcart estimates it could be between six and eight people, and although they’ll be headquartered in Brandon she anticipates seeing some "boots on the ground" throughout the province.
Their mandate, according to a release from the province, includes "the development of targeted sector strategies, to foster competitiveness, facilitate growth, identify investment opportunities and address economic barriers in the province."
The effort makes good on a campaign pledge Premier Brian Pallister made in Brandon on Aug. 29, 2019, in which he said the office would join others in the province in helping make sure there would be "no more silos, no more inter-competition," and they’d instead focus on building.
This initial seed of an idea appears to have been maintained, with Cathcart clarifying the corporation’s role as being a means to help reduce so-called red tape.
"Our role isn’t to swoop in and take on direct economic development activities in any particular region," she said. "Our role is to be able to make sure there’s a co-ordinated effort. We’re looking for opportunities to collaborate."
Although operational nuances will need to be hashed out as the organization finds its footing, she said they’ll work with existing economic development offices, municipalities and government agencies in assisting wherever they can, including offering a direct line of communication with the province.
"The role of … isn’t to necessarily be the economic developer, although it can play that role as requested, it’s to support the local development efforts," Cathcart said, adding their role will be that of co-ordinator to work as "an advocate and pathfinder to other levels of government."
Cathcart grew up in rural Westman, graduated from Brandon University and lived in Japan and Winnipeg before returning to Brandon with her husband to raise their two sons.
The region has "a great balance," she said of the reasoning behind their return. "We’ve got culture, we’ve got music, lakes, we’ve got the ability for families to roam and the ability to expose them to so many different kinds of things.
"You can dream and create whatever you want, but you can also maintain that important life balance as well."
There are "so many opportunities" in rural Manitoba, she said, pointing to agriculture, tourism and a green economic opportunities as carrying great potential.
That is, despite current struggles related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which will need to be overcome.
The Rural Manitoba Economic Development Corporation will join similar organizations in the north and Winnipeg regions, and its board of directors is made up of nine representatives from various economic development agencies and organization.
Its co-chairs are Manitoba Chambers of Commerce CEO Chuck Davidson and retired Association of Manitoba Municipalities executive director Joe Masi, who represents the organization.
A provincial spokesperson said the province is declining further comment beyond what Economic Development and Jobs Minister Ralph Eichler said in a release issued Friday.
In it, he congratulated those involved and said the hub would "play an important role in helping southern Manitoba as we move forward through the pandemic and continue our work to safely reopen businesses and restart our economy."
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