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Regional workshop participants explore needs of Northeast Avalon

Mike Clair at the regional workshop.


By Rebecca Cohoe

Maybe it was the sun shining through the window of the cafeteria at CNA’s Seal Cove Campus, or perhaps the construction workers doing campus upgrades right outside that same window.

Whatever it was, there was an undeniable sense of positive momentum at the Harris Centre’s most recent regional workshop.

The event brought Memorial staff, students and researchers together with community stakeholders from all across the Northeast Avalon Regional Economic Development Board (NEAREDB), a zone that stretches all the way from Pouch Cove to Marysvale, including the entire St. John’s metro area.

After presentations from Dr. Rob Greenwood and Bojan Fürst with the Harris Centre; Dr. Christopher Loomis, VP research; Ron Newhook, director of the Office of Research and Development at the Marine Institute; and Christine Snow, the executive director of NEARDB, the participants broke into groups to get started at the real work of the day: coming up with regionally-relevant partnerships and projects.

Ideas are at the heart of the regional workshop process, with this event focusing specifically on three key areas as identified by the development board: labour markets, transportation and innovation and technology. All three subjects were discussed in breakaway sessions facilitated by the Harris Centre, but with an emphasis on the community members.

It’s no surprise that the labour markets group had the strongest attendance. With relatively diverse labour market situations throughout the region, and both urban and rural areas, the issues are as complex as they are interconnected. Commuting issues proved to be a hot topic, with community members suggesting a study into the feasibility of a telecommuting centre in Conception Bay South that would offer office space and childcare facilities to workers who would otherwise commute to St. John’s, further exacerbating traffic and parking headaches.

Making the most of elderly workers was also a topic of interest. Participants suggested that there needed to be more work undertaken in understanding how to keep workers engaged and active later in life.

Interestingly, the issue of labour market flows also came up in the transportation discussion, emphasizing the overlap of many regional issues. Participants suggested a research project to outline sustainable transportation options for the region; this would take into consideration gas costs and a possible gas agreement, policy needs, a sustainable transportation conference, and designing of a sustainable transportation framework. Another interesting idea that emerged was a return to the rails: the establishment of a sustainably powered train to transport people and goods across the region the province.

The innovation group’s discussion was probably the most philosophical of the three. While there was extensive discussion of this region’s potential for technological development, the conversation also took a more philosophical turn. With the fewest participants of the three break-out sessions, the group discussed the possibility that the low numbers in the room reflected a regional discomfort with the word, and the concept, of “innovation.” It was suggested that one of the innovation-related challenges facing the region is actually encouraging individuals and organizations to see themselves as innovators.

“We know that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have always taken innovative approaches to dealing with the particular challenges of this place; however, even today, some are uncomfortable with attaching that label to the things that they do on a day-to-day basis,” said Bojan Fürst, manager of knowledge mobilization at the Harris Centre. “One suggestion that came out of the session was to focus on ways to encourage individuals, especially those in rural regions, to value the ingenuity that they use every day.”

Another interesting idea to emerge from the innovation session was related to food security and energy, two areas that continue to challenge regions across the province. It was pointed out that many of the agricultural producers in the Northeast Avalon are located in relatively remote areas where reliable energy can be a problem. Participants suggested that a Memorial research project looking into the feasibility of small-scale energy systems could be useful.

A full wrap-up report of the regional workshop in Seal Cove will be available on the Harris Centre’s website by the end of the month.