On a 160-acre farm in Ontario made up of veggie gardens, hay fields, a sugar bush, wetlands and rugged Canadian Shield, Ingrid Bron raised her two kids, several sheep, a donkey, pot-bellied pig, chickens, and five horses.
“I wanted to raise my kids in a clean, healthy environment. I wanted them to appreciate nature and know how to live off the land,” says Revelstoke’s new Director of Community and Economic Development. It is a sentiment plenty of Revelstokians can get behind.
At the same time, Bron also worked full time in economic development in the Town of Smiths Falls.
“Smiths Falls biggest claim to fame, aside from golfing stars Brooke and Brittany Henderson, is being a centre for a large medical marijuana company, Canopy Growth Corporation,” she says.
Sometimes referred to as the Cannabis Capital of Canada, Bron’s efforts in helping transition Smiths Falls from a manufacturing-based economy to cannabis production saw success and a community revitalized. And with the arrival of an international luxury houseboat company on the Rideau Canal last year, the tourism business is booming as well.
“Having a cannabis company take over the empty Hershey’s chocolate factory changed the town’s fortunes,” she says. Before cannabis, the town struggled with factory closures and a flagging economy. A big part of Bron’s job was to build capacity and prepare for the new industries of cannabis production and tourism while celebrating the towns existing successes.
Bron is modest, but she is an old hand at community and economic development. With a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning, she taught at Queens university for seven years.
“I instructed in a course in the graduate planning school,” she says. “We taught students how to be an effective mediator with multi-party conflicts and with building consensus for the direction of community development with multiple stakeholders. City staff must work to meet the needs of the community – which means being a voice for both the marginalized and developers.”
This desire to see communities grow successfully and offer solid opportunities for their residents springs from her own upbringing. Bron originally hails from Flin Flon Manitoba, a mining based community.
“Flin Flon is a resource driven community. In my thesis research in workforce development in the oil sands and mining industries, I was focused on learning how to take a resource based community and help it thrive and sustain itself.”
Bron was originally motivated by social justice; keen to see women and Indigenous people given better options in their communities.
“While I was concerned about environmentally damaging practices in the oil sands, it is important to make sure there are opportunities for other people in those industries. Where I grew up, bright and articulate women were coming of age expecting access to education and well paid jobs, but without breaking down barriers that wasn’t going to happen.”
In turn, the social justice merged into the business end of industry.
“What I learned was that in typical mining towns most of the well paid jobs are held by men, and the company and community see a lot of turnover,” she says. “So for businesses looking at their bottom line, it makes sense to develop best practices that include hiring women. From social needs assessment to on-the-job training, everyone benefits; including local First Nations and workers who need skills training. When companies invest in the people who live in the towns they operate in, they end up with a loyal workforce that is invested in the community.”
Bron seems a well-rounded choice for Revelstoke’s landscape.
“I want to help small towns thrive by embracing opportunities that come from their geography and landscape, like Revelstoke’s resort, but ensure the people who built this town still have a role and a sense of belonging. I think it is important to welcome outsiders but never let go of your original sense of purpose,” she says.
As for the community itself, Bron has been thrilled with the positive energy and engaged residents she has met. “There is so much volunteerism here. There are growing pains too, not uncommon in smaller, older towns going through demographic and economic change as they develop into a resort community.”
“I’m excited to be here, I wouldn’t have left my farm for anything other than a dream job,” she laughs.
What makes Revelstoke a dream job? It’s the fact that ‘community’ is identified in the title. The job is about community as much as it is about economy. For Bron, the two have always gone hand in hand.
“Revelstoke has professionals, a resource development background flavour, and a history with nature, farming, the railway, and energy. But it is welcoming to newer energy, like the opportunities coming from the tech strategy such as Start Up Revelstoke and the fabrication lab. And with training and business support through agencies like Community Futures, entrepreneurs can flourish. Revelstoke isn’t meant to be a playground for the rich, but a place where it is fun to live and work in,” she explains.
Bron intends to focus on business retention and expansion. “The most sustainable growth comes from within a community,” she explains. ”Of course outside investment has a role, but it is important within a community to support existing businesses, retain employees, grow and expand.”
Also important to Bron is improving access to training and education. Okanagan College, Bron notes, is developing alternative models of training youth in tourism marketing, for instance, that also allow them to work in the industry during peak season.
“I would like to continue with the current community economic development strategy to grow opportunities for skilled workers and for the jobs of the future,” she says, “and to celebrate the businesses who are up and running and have been for years.”
Bron has been impressed with the legacy left by Alan Mason and Nicole Fricot and the many others involved in committee work and projects.
“All the great work they accomplished, has laid a really solid foundation to build on. I’m going to continue to work on the issues they have aptly identified,” she says. “I mean, why reinvent the wheel?”