Entrepreneurialism and Rural/Small Town Local Government

Social and economic change across rural and small-town Canada has accelerated since the early 1980s. Local governments are the managers of critical community infrastructure and have responsibilities for community land-use and economic development planning. When dramatic changes occur, local governments are ‘on the ground’, dealing with immediate effects and long-term impacts. Yet, local governments struggle with outdated financial and jurisdictional structures and a senior government public policy agenda that asks them to become more creative, innovative, and ‘entrepreneurial’ in their approach and responsibilities.

This multi-year project investigates the ‘entrepreneurial’ activities of local governments as they adjust to rapid economic restructuring, and changes in public policy and governance and looks at local governments in several provinces and regions. In this context, the study asks: 1) How are rural and small town local governments dealing with dramatic economic restructuring and the transition towards entrepreneurialism?, and 2) How are rural and small town local governments approaching entrepreneurial solutions under their current regime of financial resources and jurisdictional authority?

The research is being carried out in four regions. The research team, including collaborators from the University of Lethbridge, the University of Guelph, and the Grenfell Campus of Memorial University, has considerable expertise and community connections in these regions: 1) Northern British Columbia – a forestry and natural resource-based economy that is undergoing significant restructuring; 2) North-central Alberta – an energy and agricultural producing region, with both main industries undergoing change; 3) Southern Ontario – an agricultural region experiencing change and with significant urban and industrial spillover impacts; and, 4) Atlantic Canada – a slow growth region, with historical activity in natural resource industries of agriculture, forestry, and fishing, and now with increasing activity in tourism. Together, the regions include many examples of small local governments coping with dramatic change, and cover a number of different provincial jurisdictional contexts and regional economic and infrastructure circumstances that allow for exploration of the range of constraints under which non-metropolitan local governments function.

The project will generate meaningful and impactful outcomes associated with: 1) Addressing the literature gap concerning rural local government entrepreneurialism; 2) Informing provincial government policy with strategic insights related to local governance in peripheral regions of Canada; 3) Supporting rural local government through information and descriptions of innovative cases/models and transferable lessons; and, 4) Contributing to education and training of new researchers within the project and creating teaching case studies to support “engaged classroom” education.

This study is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and its findings will enhance theoretical knowledge and practical policy and development information.

Team Members

Greg Halseth, Principal Investigator, University of Northern British Columbia

Laura Murphy, Project Manager/Coordinator, University of Northern British Columbia

Sean Markey, Co-Investigator, Simon Fraser University

Kelly Vodden, Co-Investigator, Grenfell Campus, Memorial University

Ryan Gibson, Collaborator, University of Guelph

Lars Hallstrom, Collaborator, University of Lethbridge

Joshua Barrett, PhD Student, University of Guelph

Project Resources