Just like businesses need an edge on their competition, rural communities need something to make them stand out to potential investors, entrepreneurs, and new residents. We think most communities have something special about them that defines their hometown advantage.
Some use gimmicks, like having the World’s largest Easter egg or biggest moose. Others capitalize on their location. But now, more than ever, community leaders and entrepreneurs are looking inward to find their hometown advantage and stand out from the rest. And co-operatives are leading the charge.
Here are four co-ops doing just that.
Breaking ground and expectations
Sometimes rural communities express their hometown advantage through a historically significant building — like a church or a pub. Hamiota, Manitoba’s approach is a little different.
Hamiota’s claim to fame is found in a small, nondescript shed that stands unassumingly along the town’s bustling Main Street. Though the shed’s exterior may not speak to its importance, it’s what’s inside — and what’s beneath it — that’s broken ground for the town.
The shed is the server room for the town’s fibre optic cable — and with it, some of the most impressive internet speeds in the country. How fast, you ask? Well, residents have one gigabyte-per-second download speed. That’s 20 times faster than the federal government’s target for rural Canadians.
Spearheaded by the regional school district, the Park West Fibre Optic Co-op began in 2017 and provides high-speed internet to surrounding municipalities via 140 kilometres of fibre optic cable.
Thanks to the co-op, Hamiota has broken ground — literally and figuratively — and now stands as a leading precedent for how fast the internet could be in other rural communities. That’s a pretty solid hometown advantage.
All the town’s a stage
Unlike the anonymous server shed in Hamiota, Rosthern’s Station Arts Centre proudly takes centre stage in the central Saskatchewan farming town, as the leading example of the community’s past and present.
Built in 1902, the station was an active muster point in Rosthern and a place where grains, goods, and gossip were moved to and fro. But in 1981, when the rail line (and the station along with it) were to be shut down, a group of artists found there was a desire to save the building. So they formed a co-op, bought the station, and began the renovations.
Today, the Station Arts Centre is home to an artisan gallery, tea shop, train museum, and a performing arts theatre. It draws musicians, theatre companies, and more from around the country to this small farming town.
What’s more, people from around Saskatchewan and beyond flock to the Arts Centre to catch a concert or a production — proving that Rosthern’s hometown advantage is flying off the rails.
History in loco-motion
Further west along the track from Rosthern, a group of farmers in the Battle River region of Alberta also champion their hometown advantage through a rail line. When CN announced they were closing the line between Camrose and Alliance — an important method for moving grain — some insightful farmers saw the need to keep it operating.
Nearly 200 shareholders in the area came together and formed the Battle River Railway co-operative, amassing nearly $5 million dollars to purchase the line, a locomotive, and 50 rail cars. This meant members who bought in could continue to move their grain to market. Impressive, huh?
But the train didn’t stop there. Shareholders in the co-operative saw another opportunity in owning a rail line — tourism. So some locals created a sister organization, the Friends of the Battle River Railway, that would take passengers on themed excursions to nearby towns and attractions.
At the end of the line, the Battle River Railway sets the region apart by supporting its members’ agrarian lifestyle and promoting a rich history, while proving, when all are aboard, your hometown advantage is just around the bend.
Net-zero at mile zero
If you trade the trains and grains for an automobile and head northwest, you might find yourself in Dawson Creek, B.C., Mile Zero of the Alaska highway. Nestled in what might be considered B.C.’s oil country, the Peace Energy Co-operative shows off the city’s identity as an important leader in renewable energy.
The Peace Energy Co-operative heads Canada’s first electricity-generating wind farm at nearby Bear Mountain. The aptly named Bear Mountain Wind Park has 32 turbines that produce 102 MW , which is enough to power much of BC’s South Peace region. Visible from Dawson Creek, the mountain is a source of pride for the city as one of the first communities in the country to embrace renewable wind energy.
Members of the Peace Energy Co-op are now viewed as experts and leaders in renewable energy in the region. They’ve completed other installations as well, like the 1,550 solar panel project in the nearby Hudson’s Hope — B.C.’s largest solar installation to date. You could say that Peace Energy is not only powering the region, but they’re also empowering Dawson Creek’s hometown advantage.
Whether it’s a niche, a gimmick, or a business, it’s clear that rural communities and regions need something to stand out. To get more ideas on how to capture your hometown advantage, check out our Hometown Advantage video series at HometownAdvantage.ca