Last week, we witnessed another first for our region.
The Valley Regional Enterprise Network, often referred to as REN 3, was launched in Windsor March 20, with nine municipal units and the Glooscap First Nation coming on board. Just two areas — the Town of Annapolis Royal and the County of Annapolis — have not yet agreed to join the REN.
The signing establishes the first REN to be launched in the province and, with it, a renewed sense of optimism for economic growth.
Our region has been hard hit over the years with job losses, companies closing up shop or scaling back operations, and stagnant to non-existent population growth.
The purpose of the REN is to reverse that tide, and draw economic prosperity to the area.
With buy-in from the key Valley municipalities, it sounds promising.
The hope is to work together to promote the Valley region as one unified front, where drawing business into one community is seen as beneficial for all.
In some cases, that will be a tough sell as there is still a mindset out there that what benefits Kings County or other municipalities won't result in positive spinoffs for Windsor, Hantsport and West Hants.
Another challenge the REN faces is breaking free from the shadow of the failed provincial Regional Development Authorities.
This may be their biggest hurdle, as the RDAs left a bad taste in the mouths of several municipal councils across the province.
But unlike the RDAs, the REN has a much more refined focus and mandate. The network has accomplished board members from each area, and several safeguards in place to ensure fair representation.
West Hants council was quite vocal with their concerns in the months leading up to the signing, but after meeting with Michael Johnson, the executive director of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, many of those concerns were laid to rest.
And, as skeptics were happy to hear, there is an opt-out clause if this organization strays from its intended purpose or doesn't live up to expectations.
The true test of the newly formed REN will be the ability to draw in business. And to do that, they need all of us to work together to promote the region as one.