By Greg Vandermeulen
The Red River Valley Echo
The Pembina Valley Development Corporation is facing the end of its 48 year existence after the provincial government suddenly cut all funding.
Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI), the department which oversees regional development corporations, has cut funding from all five RDCs.
The program cut caught everyone by surprise, says PVDC president Ralph Groening.
"We knew there'd been a review of the regional development organizations," he said. "We did not anticipate for a moment they would just drop all funding."
What stunned PVDC directors and staff more than anything else was the lack of warning. The office got a call on April 24, where a MAFRI official told them their funding was cut retroactively to April 1. They received a letter a few days later.
"They're redirecting their efforts regarding economic development in rural areas," Groening said.
For PVDC, the cut means $66,000 in annual funding is gone. That's half of their budget.
"It means that the future of the organization is in jeopardy," he said. "I guess that's the reality. Right now we're really struggling."
Because the 14 member municipalities have already drawn up their budgets, going back to them for additional funding is not an option right now. Membership fees from the 14 municipalities provides $38,000 of the PVDC's annual budget.
The loss of PVDC will have an impact. It currently oversees the Pembina Valley Learning & Education for Adults (PVLEA), promotes the region for businesses, offers business support, and promotes tourism by hosting the Pembina Valley Passport Challenge and the Amazing Race.
The PVDC has also worked regionally to study public transportation, agricultural, and environmental issues.
"What we've always seen as a strength is our ability to bring the communities and the region together," Groening said.
The loss of PVDC would also mean the loss of jobs for general manager Aggie Buhler and a PVDC office staffer.
"We have to deal with the future of our employees," Groening said, adding those same employees are in the unenviable position of working to help transition themselves to having no jobs.
"What is especially wrong is the lack of warning."
Buhler agreed, saying the announcement was totally unexpected.
"We had received an email in March advising us not to do any hiring at this point," she said.
But until the April 24 phone call, that was the only indication something was different.
Buhler said there's some things that will definitely be missed. They recently set up a regional website that attract interest from overseas on a weekly basis. They help new businesses, and support small businesses.
"It's all the relationships we've built with hundreds of businesses," she said. "Who's going to carry that forward?"
But MAFRI minister Ron Kostyshyn said cutting the funding was necessary. He said many of the services offered by regional development corporations are now duplicated in other programs that are offered by MAFRI's GO Centre's, entrepreneurship programs and others.
"There are alternate agencies within Manitoba that can offer assistance," Kostyshyn said.
He also said there had been signs the programs might not continue.
"The regional development organization has been discussed over the years, numerous times," he said, adding that the last review was another sign it could come to an end.
"There were some indications," he said.