‘Summit’ must be followed with action: delegates

The first-ever “Community Summit” held here last Thursday was intended to bring people together to think about problems the district will face in the future—and discuss ways to overcome them.
And from reactions of those who attended the summit, which saw nearly 90 delegates from various sectors and municipalities in the district gather at La Place Rendez-Vous, the day-long event got many people thinking.
“I thought it was an excellent opportunity for the various interest groups to get together and discuss the future,” said Paul Noonan, co-owner of La Place Rendez-Vous.
“It was an rare occasion where we could get together and share a common vision instead of all being off in different directions.
“What comes of it remains to be seen. But even if it doesn’t go anywhere, just getting all those people together for that one day was definitely worthwhile,” added Noonan.
“I think it went really well. The speakers did well. The discussion was good afterwards,” echoed Gary Rogozinski, president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce.
“Of course, any success is going to depend on people getting involved in the various committees we need to form,” he added. “I just hope people are interested enough to get aboard, so we can see some of these things come to fruition.”
“I thought it was well-organized, and the speakers were excellent,” said Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig.
While he couldn’t participate in the brainstorming session because he was unexpectedly called away to work, McCaig noted other town employees felt the exercise was worthwhile and reported “a number of good ideas” were discussed.
“I truly benefited from the experience,” said Teresa Hazel, director of the Riverside Foundation for Health Care.
“I’m looking forward to it moving forward,” she added, noting she found the information on tourism particularly interesting.
“It was amazing to have the resources together in that room,” continued Hazel. “And there was a lot of great ideas that shouldn’t get left on the shelf.”
La Vallee Reeve Emily Watson noted she had concerns whether action will be taken after the summit, saying she’s gone to similar “community panels” and found those who attended never ended up doing anything they said they would at the time of the conference.
But she added with such a wide variety of individuals attending the summit, perhaps this would not happen this time.
Times’ publisher Jim Cumming, who organized the summit, was satisfied with the outcome.
“I never expected we’d see that many people. Fort Frances has never really done this sort of thing,” he said.
He added about 60 of the 90 delegates even stayed late into the evening to have dinner and further discuss the day’s events, and agreed the summit succeeded in getting people thinking differently.
“One of the interesting things that I heard afterward was that Kim Cornell had the biggest impact on people,” Cumming remarked. “People had never taken into account the economic impact the agricultural community has on the district.
“Sure, they’ve drove down the highway, they’ve see horses. But they hadn’t really thought of it before,” he added.
He noted all of the speakers were able to shed light on their various areas of expertise.
< *c>The future
As first reported in Friday’s Daily Bulletin, the end result of the “Community Summit” was a call to create working groups to tackle six key areas defined by the delegates.
The areas include tourism, agriculture, education, value-added wood products, import substitution, and immigration.
The group designated for tourism, for instance, might focus on marketing and developing tourism packages while the agriculture group would look at getting a federal abattoir and foreign investors here.
The import substitution group, meanwhile, would explore alternative, cheaper forms of energy for area industry.
The delegates came up with the areas of focus after hearing eight presenters speak on a range of topics earlier Thursday.
After all the presentations, delegates brainstormed in groups for several hours, first identifying common problems and the most pressing issues, then coming up with ways to minimize potential problems, before identifying the six key areas to be worked on by the community.
Now it’s a matter of seeing who among those attending the summit want to get involved with the working groups.
“We’ve had a post-meeting to look at getting the people together in committees and getting going,” Cumming said yesterday. “We have lots of ideas to work on.”
Packages containing all the information from the summit will be sent out to delegates in the next two weeks, which may get more people to consider getting involved, he added.
Once it becomes clear exactly how many people will be involved in the various working groups, Cumming said a meeting will be called in February, “fundamental principles” for the groups will be set, and then they will move forward.
The whole process may end up narrowing down to only one or two key ideas, he admitted.
“Coming up with the ideas was the easy part. Now, we have to figure out what’s in place, get together in groups, and get the tools to do something,” Cumming stressed.
While a dozen or so people have agreed to be involved in the working groups, Cumming said he’s optimistic that number will grow.
“Hopefully, people will read about it and say, ‘I have an interest in that and I want to get involved,’” he remarked, adding a presentation on the summit will be made during the Rainy River District Municipal Association’s annual general meeting coming up Jan. 29 in Barwick.
Those wanting to learn more about the event, or the working groups and key topics resulting from the “Community Summit,” can contact Cumming at 274-5373 ext. 223.