Nova Scotia Association of Regional Development Authorities
Prosperous, vibrant communities don’t just materialize out of thin air. It takes resourcefulness, hard work and innovation. It also takes a helping hand. For communities across Nova Scotia, that helping hand is offered through 13 regional development authorities (RDAs).
Whether it’s spearheading a downtown revitalization project, helping businesses reach new export markets, or supporting immigrants as they build their lives in a new home, RDAs facilitate economic development in the communities they serve. Those RDAs, in turn, are served by the Nova Scotia Association of Regional Development Authorities.
“Our mandate is to be a common voice for RDAs in Nova Scotia,” says Executive Director Holly Boston.
“The regional development authorities focus on community economic development,” she adds, “and the association focuses on the RDAs.”
Currently, one major initiative is its award-winning Business Retention & Expansion program, or BRE, which is coordinated at the provincial level by the association. The program recently captured the attention of the world when it was recognized at the 2009 BRE International Awards.
“This award is a tremendous honour and a testament to the important role businesses and RDAs play in community economic development,” says Boston.
The program is designed to help existing Nova Scotia businesses stay and grow in the province.
Here’s how it works: Nova Scotia’s 13 RDAs connect local businesses to the resources and services they need to be even more competitive, both at home, across the country, and around the globe. RDA staff work one-on-one with businesses to identify barriers to growth, develop strategies to overcome those barriers, and seize opportunities for expansion.
“The services offered through BRE vary depending on the needs of the business and may include connecting businesses to sources of capital, assisting in promoting local firms internationally, or helping to assist a company identify a qualified local labour pool,” notes Boston. “This is all done through partnership and collaboration.”
The program, launched in 2006, is a fundamental strategy for economic sustainability and growth. Already, it has helped hundreds of businesses in sectors as diverse as IT, business services, alternative energy, and biotech to stay and grow in the province. Indeed, since its inception, BRE officers have connected with more than 1,700 businesses across the province.
Business, and the communities they grow and thrive in, know that they can count on their local regional development authority for support, expertise and insight. That support is one of a kind.
“We are a unique model in Canada,” says Boston. “All three levels of government have come together to support the regional development authorities. That level of collaboration is unmatched anywhere else in the country, and in our view, internationally.”
Collaboration, she adds, is the cornerstone to success. “The more communities look at opportunities for economic growth, the more the RDAs can work with them. It’s a grassroots effort. It’s bottom-up.”
The unified “we’re all in this together” approach has proven highly successful – time and time again.
Through RDA-coordinated initiatives, for example, communities have improved literacy levels, become more energy efficient, and nurtured stronger leaders. The regional development authorities have also facilitated a wide variety of community-based projects from festivals and events to parks and trail construction to labour force enhancements.
On the business side, notes Boston, the provincial RDAs have provided connections for businesses who need a wide array of services from writing a business plan to developing a marketing survey. From an initial idea to a planned expansion, Nova Scotia RDAs contine to work with partners to share the experience and best practices of starting, running and growing a business.
They also focus on the development of key sectors important to regional and provincial growth. These include life sciences, manufacturing and distribution, information technology, aerospace, and offshore energy.
Of course, money matters. Access to financial capital is one of the biggest roadblocks in starting or improving businesses. “Nova Scotia RDAs work with community-based funding organizations to help navigate the financial assistance process,” says Boston.
“Through it all,” she adds, “Nova Scotia RDAs bring leadership, vision and the right players to the table to ensure community and economic development initiatives succeed.”
The success of the various provincial RDAs is supported by the Nova Scotia association, which is based in Halifax and has two full-time staff along with project staff, as needed.
“Success,” notes Boston, “is defined by key performance indicators identified in the annual business plan.
“We have to be accountable,” she adds. “We have to be transparent.”
That level of accountability for the RDAs is noteworthy – and unique in North America. “We operate under what is called a performance-based funding model,” explains Boston. “The funding a regional development authority receives is directly linked to how well they deliver on their objectives for the year.”
That model – four years in the making – is much more than a financial approach to management. “It inspires and motivates members to be the best that they can be for their communities,” says Boston.
That drive for excellence, and innovation, she notes, is inherent in doing business in Nova Scotia. “It’s part of our culture to roll up our sleeves and figure it out – whatever it is.”
“We have a strong work ethic,” she adds, “and we have a passion for creating a province that is the best it can be.”