Urban-rural divide must be conquered – WP editorial

THE clash between two poultry processing plants in Saskatchewan highlights the need for economic co-operation between cities and rural communities.

There were smiles in Saskatoon last year when Prairie Pride Natural Foods said it planned to build a $28 million poultry processing plant in the city creating 200 jobs. Those smiles turned upside down when it came to light that competition from the new plant would force the province’s existing poultry processor in Wynyard, owned by Lilydale, to lay off 100 employees.

Under supply management Saskatchewan can process only 500,000 birds per week and Lilydale already handled this business. Prairie Pride’s entry means anything it processes must come from Lilydale’s business.

It also means a job transfer from Wynyard, population 2,100, to Saskatoon, whose population is 100 times bigger.

Although supply management creates another dimension to this situation, the sifting of jobs from rural to urban communities is nothing new. For decades, industries and businesses have consolidated and services have centralized and the jobs almost always flow to cities.

Often, cities provide a labour pool, infrastructure, transportation links and amenities that rural communities can’t match. But rural communities also have much to offer: a stable workforce with a strong work ethic, proximity to raw product, lower cost of living and community spirit.

In the last decade, rural economy specialists have promoted the idea of regional development where several towns, villages and rural municipalities shed local allegiances so as to plan, build and promote the region to make best use of limited resources. This concept has had success but it should spread wider to include dynamic economic relationships between major cities and their surrounding rural regions to the benefit of both.

A thriving countryside gives cities a strong trading radius. Nearby rural areas also are ideal homes for industries not appropriate in an urban setting.

A thriving city provides customers for the food, products and tourist attractions that rural people create. They also generate commuter populations who enliven nearby rural communities.

The cross-promotional opportunities between the Prairies’ urban and rural communities have yet to be explored. A fruitful relationship elsewhere and a useful guide is that between Portland, Oregon, and Washington County, which stretches to the west of the city.

With the catch phrase “Visit the Country Side of Portland” the county’s visitor and convention bureau promotes to tourists and metropolitan Portland’s two million residents the area’s wineries, farmers markets and stores, festivals, garden nurseries and scenic attractions.

In an age of intense global competition for economic growth, Western Canada’s communities, urban and rural, will be poorer if they do not co-operate in planning and promote amenities as a complete and complementary package.

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