Connecting the Countryside

Keeping rural communities alive and prospering requires a long-term plan that's willing to embrace change. Solutions that focus on sustainability and the adoption of new technology are paramount. For many rural areas, having minimal or a complete lack of network connectivity is limiting their ability to attract and promote new development, innovation, education and technologies. It was very interesting to attend the Creating Rural Connections 2011 Conference in Edmonton, Alberta, on April 12-14. The event, hosted by the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN), provided much-needed networking opportunities between town representatives, individuals and organizations involved in successful rural community projects.

Presentations highlighted how partnerships between communities, academia, industry and government have resulted in new programs and growth outcomes for rural Albertan communities. Many of the speakers focused on the challenges and solutions rural communities face and must overcome to advance technology and connect to the larger network. For example, for a project to achieve long-term sustainability, it must address government policies, overcome funding gaps, generate successful stakeholder partnerships and collaborations, as well as emphasize commercialization and improved economic development.

One of the most interesting presentations at the conference was by Bruce Rutley from the Centre for Research and Innovation (CRI) at Grande Prairie Regional College in northern Alberta. His company is an example of a multi-agency, multi-community partnership that uses innovation to advance rural development and diversify the regional economy. Similar to TECTERRA in Edmonton and University Technologies International in Calgary, the CRI offers innovation and applied research services to local inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs and SMEs. Primarily, the CRI helps innovators commercialize new products and technologies that respond to the needs of the local economy, including sustainable energy, oil and gas, and agricultural clients. Through efforts like this, local developers can specialize their products and services to capitalize on, and not be impeded by, their rural location.

As Alberta moves forward into an energy scarce future, the rural landscape will, by necessity, play a much larger role in residents' everyday lives. Advancing the development and connectivity of rural communities is necessary to educate the future workforce, promote sustainable energy solutions and maintain our agricultural landscape as a primary industry. For more information on the ARDN and future events, visit their website.