Rural Ontario has a new economic development program. To be more precise, it’s the spawn of an existing program. OSTAR has begat RED.
OSTAR is the acronym for the Ontario Small Town and Rural Development Initiative, a $600 million program launched in 2000 which often comes under criticism for not having delivered the goods promised.
While that may or may not be true or partly true, one thing that can now definitely be said for OSTAR... it has delivered a $200 million, five-year sub program dubbed RED - Rural Economic Development Program - a mini-me which proposes to do many of the things its parent was supposed to accomplish.
Critics have called the exercise political slight of hand, the hiving off and repackaging of a block of funding previously announced as part of a bigger package. But RED could deliver the goods connected to it because it comes under the purvue of a proud OMAFRA Minister Brian Coburn who has high hopes for it.
Coburn recently told The AgriNews that he wants to begin getting the money out to rural Ontario as soon as possible. He plans to form a committee to oversee distribution of the funds based on the merits of proposed projects.
RED aims to remove economic barriers in rural Ontario by promoting a diversified business climate, exploring new products and markets, creating an environment conducive to the creation of long-term jobs and by investing in technologies and sectors that contribute to rural economic growth.
Applicants must form cost-sharing partnerships or alliances among individuals, businesses, community organizations and municipalities. Successful projects, the minister says, will help ensure rural communities remain viable, healthy and vibrant places in which to live, work and invest.
Some project examples include Internet marketing of local tourism attractions, exploring non-traditional uses of agricultural commodities or new ways of managing waste, developing new food products that promote human health, investigating establishment of rural telecommuting centres and studying ways of attracting and retaining new businesses.
We’ll drink some good Eastern Ontario wine to that sentiment! Who wouldn’t? But the key to acceptance and success here is in getting some showcase projects up and funded quickly.
Otherwise, the critics will soon be seeing red. And we don’t mean RED.