Coming in off the heels of working in the successful and hard-fought election campaign to re-elect Kamloops Liberal MLA Terry Lakes, Emile Scheffel could have parlayed the experience into a position within the halls of government in Victoria.
Instead, Scheffel, the Village of Burns Lake’s (VBL) new – and first – hire for the position of economic development officer (EDO), chose the decidedly more rugged and rural landscape of the Lakes District to call his new home.
After two years of searching for the right person, Scheffel is here. Village of Burns Lake Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Worthing commented, “We are excited to have Emile come aboard. We have limitless projects and initiatives for him to tackle as EDO.”
The position came out of report recommendations found in the Economic Development Association of B.C. report compiled last year. The EDO position is funded jointly by the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (area B) and the Village of Burns Lake in a 60-40 split.
The annual budget for the office of the EDO, which includes salary, economic development projects, supplies, equipment, advertising, and travel, was pegged at $109,000 for 2013 in the recently released VBL five-year budget plan.
Born and raised in Kamloops, B.C., Scheffel earned his bachelors degree at the University of Ottawa. He’s currently completing a master’s thesis in political management based on his experiences during the last election.
Scheffel will be responsible for setting the tone for the job and what it can bring to the region. He acknowledged that coming into this position without a background specific to economic development will present a bit of a learning curve, but the heart of the position isn’t economics or number crunching.
“It’s a relationship-building and communication job,” Scheffel said.
“The tragedy at the mill presents the major challenge and has served to sound the alarm bell on the fact that any community too reliant on one employer or one industry is going to be threatened by ups and downs in the sector,” Scheffel said.
“We have a lot of great recommendations sitting in the community tourism plan that was drafted by the B.C. tourism association after the mill explosion. I’m working with [village] staff and partners like the chamber of commerce and local businesses to prioritize those recommendations and see which ones are achievable in the short, medium and long-term.”
Scheffel hopes that local businesses and non-profit organizations will find his office to be an open door to making sure that their ideas, interests and concerns are brought to village and regional staff.
He has no illusions that there is a magic bullet for the recurring set of difficulties that come with being reliant upon the fortunes of a resource sector.
“There’s no question that this community was built on resource development and that’s not going to change anytime soon,” Scheffel said.
But that doesn’t mean that the region can’t diversify in ways that compliment its resource history and strengths.
“The opportunity is always there to expand the number of employers and to expand the number of industries that are in the region and to try to amp up our efforts in tourism,” he said.
For Scheffel, economic development in the district isn’t just about large, headline grabbing projects.
The ongoing downtown revitalization will be a major first focus, as well as co-operation with local First Nations and the exploration of opportunities there.
“[Local First Nations] are high on my list of people to meet with. I hope to have a productive working relationship with the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation, and the two local bands in particular, but also all six First Nations in the region.”
The Lakes Economic Development Association (LEDA) will continue to operate.
“LEDA’s focus over the past year has been to look at marketing Burns Lake and the Lakes District,” said Cindy Shelford, LEDA economic development officer. “I believe our mandates will be different from the focus the village has been saying that they are looking at doing.”
The association has been operating without funding from the Village of Burns Lake since December 2011, after having begun to scale back funding in 2009.
The Lakes Economic Development Association continues to operate through provincial and federal funding opportunities.