Education as the Key to Community Economic Development

Over the past year, the Sackville Schools 2020 group of concerned community members has formally declared our desire to work with the Government of New Brunswick, the Town of Sackville, our schools and business, as well as Mount Allison University to achieve the goal of developing Sackville as an innovative, education-based place.  We envision a place where we can all thrive in a modern, state of the art, environmentally healthy system of educational facilities with a community-wide focus on the creation of a 21st Century economy.  We are an action-based, all-encompassing group, made up of students, parents, educators, business leaders, civic and educational officials.  As concerned citizens we wish to work jointly with all levels of government to engage the greater Sackville community in developing a transparent and comprehensive plan for becoming an “education community” by the year 2020.  Our central goal is to work with others to form a Sackville Community Development Agency or similar Economic Corporation or Cooperative by creating an integrated, modern and cost-effective infrastructure for Sackville schools and related business and agencies over the next five years.

What is a CEDC?

Community Economic Development Corporations (CEDCs) are non-profit, community-based organizations focused on revitalizing the areas in which they are located.  These areas are typically underserved rural or small towns that have experienced significant disinvestment over the years—often with shrinking populations, declining school enrolments, and facing business retention issues.  While CDECs are most commonly celebrated for developing affordable housing, they are also involved in a range of initiatives critical to community health such as: economic development, sanitation, downtown revitalization, and neighbourhood planning projects and oftentimes even providing education and social services to residents.  This is what attracts us to the CEDC model for Sackville at this time—a community based approach to economic and social development with education as our primary “industry”.  Sackville already has a strong national record and reputation as a community with a highly educated population and an innovative approach to its major asset: education.  Our vision is of a CEDC that would support strategic educational opportunities and attract businesses to provide services to this community.

The Sackville community economic development model uses the concept of education as an organizing principle and social goal for the larger Sackville region.  It seeks to mobilize the five sectors of the community: civic (governance), economic (private and social enterprises), public (libraries, museums, social and health agencies), education (early learning through postsecondary), and voluntary (cultural, recreational, and charitable).  The model requires that a CEDC be built by community members, for community members, by forging partnerships and fostering collaboration and cooperation amongst the five sectors.  In fact, education is already the leading economic activity in Sackville, with over 600 direct jobs associated with education, from the pre-school to postsecondary levels.  In addition, there are hundreds of indirect jobs and businesses located here to serve the many educators and students attending these schools and the university.  A 2008 business retention and development study of Sackville, authored by David Campbell, the current Chief Economist for the Government of New Brunswick, found that education and health care amount to close to 40% of the jobs and the community enjoys annual investments of over $25 million from the thousands of students who are attracted to live in Sackville and study at Mount Allison University.  Just think of the amount of housing occupied by teachers, staff and faculty, the significant amount of student housing and the landlords who provide these places, cafés and shops, bakeries and restaurants, and other goods and services that rely on all of these individuals involved in teaching and learning.  The business and retention study of Sackville found that 70% of all businesses in Sackville generate at least some of their business from the various educational institutions—with 84% of respondents identifying education—particularly Mount Allison, as being a critical part of the Sackville economy.

We envision a place where we can all thrive in a modern, state of the art, environmentally healthy system of educational facilities with a community-wide focus on the creation of a 21st Century economy. 

The Time is Right for Education and the Economy

Just over six months ago, the Premier of New Brunswick announced the Education and New Economy Fund and stated that the best way to give students the chance to succeed in whatever they would like to do with their lives is to invest in education, in training, in research and development, and in innovation (Hon. Brian Gallant, State of the Province Address, January 28, 2016).  This was a profound commitment to education and is designed to be the key to our economic and cultural future in this province.  Just three months ago, the residents of Sackville elected a new Mayor and Council, with a stated desire to take a “fresh approach” to community economic development.  The new Council is busy developing a strategic plan that focuses on the strengths of this place and ways in which we can address the economic challenges of declining population, business retention and growth, as well as the tired and out-dated infrastructure in our education system.  Sackville Schools 2020 has already presented the CEDC and integrated education concept to the Mayor and Council, as we see these municipal and provincial visions matching closely to what we see for Sackville and the Tantramar Region.  Change is on the horizon and we believe that Sackville is well positioned to be the first New Brunswick community to respond to this new, multi-million dollar provincial fund through the creation of a CEDC with education at its core.  The time is right for education as the engine of our local economy.