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Functional regions, functional economies

Participants at a recent Harris Centre workshop discuss governance, creativity and regional development in this province.

By Rebecca Cohoe

Sometimes there’s more to a municipality than meets the eye.

So observed participants at a recent workshop presented by the Harris Centre. Held in Bauline East, Local Governance, Creativity and Regional Development in Newfoundland and Labrador was a chance for researchers and regional stakeholders to discuss the specific challenges and opportunities faced by municipal leaders and regional developers in this province.

The workshop brought together researchers and stakeholders in two major ongoing research projects. Both projects include Memorial University faculty, staff and students partnering during the research process with community, industry and government leaders from across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Several key lessons emerged over the course of the workshop sessions, but one of the most interesting was the need for government and non-government bodies to be more aware of the impacts that functional regions can have upon the development and sustainability of a region.

Put simply, a functional region is an area in which people live and work, but that may or may not fit within a strictly defined municipality or official regional structure.

“We’re no longer in a situation where most people live and work in a single community,” explained Harris Centre director, Dr. Rob Greenwood. “An individual who lives in a rural area, Deep Bight, for example, might work in St. John’s, but do his or her grocery shopping and see a doctor in Clarenville."

Keeping track of functional regions can be tricky -- when many individuals contribute to and use local services in municipalities without actually residing in them, municipal planning becomes difficult.

One of the most significant challenges relates to labour markets. With an aging provincial population and economic booms in specific communities, including St. John’s and Labrador City, more and more workers have become commuters.

With the economic activity that attracts workers taking place outside many workers’ home communities, governments and employers will need a better understanding of functional regions in order to plan future services and operations.

One of the projects explored at the Harris Centre workshop was the Regional Economic Capacity Index (RECI). Developed by Memorial’s Dr. Alvin Simms, the geographic information system (GIS)-based tool maps data on labour markets, services and road networks, showing activity flows between communities. These flows will help governments, businesses and organizations to understand community interconnectivity in their regions, and make informed decisions about future plans.

RECI will be released online at this fall, and will be presented at the Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador annual conference, ensuring that this province’s communities have access to the tool.

Readers interested in learning more about this, or any project discussed at ‘Local Governance, Creativity and Regional Development in Newfoundland and Labrador,’ the report on the workshop is now available at the Harris Centre’s website,