The Georgetown Conference, Rural Redefined 

For some the line score on rural Atlantic Canada is already written. Our communities are too old and reliant on failing traditional industries. Our youth are leaving for bigger paycheques in bigger centres. We are too dependent on government.

It is these generalizations that are driving organizers of a unique conference to be held October 3-5, 2013. The Georgetown Conference, Rural Redefined will focus on rural issues and opportunities in an environment free of government influence. But Georgetown is not about criticizing government or failed programs. It is about identifying the issues, promoting solutions and engaging the people who can make change happen on a local level in communities throughout Atlantic Canada.

“We believe in our rural communities and rural people and we believe communities can be reinvigorated. Our best days lie ahead of us, ” says Inez Forbes, President of Newspapers Atlantic, lead sponsor of The Georgetown Conference. “It will take hard work, but we will get there.”

The conference namesake is the capital of Kings County, PEI an idyllic community with a population of 675. Its story is not unique. The sawmill is closed. The shipyard sits idle. It is increasingly difficult to maintain municipal services. Yet the community has a spirit that defies its economic reality.

The Georgetown Conference is about harnessing the spirit that exists in every rural community and arming those local leaders – some who are elected but many who are not – with ideas that they can transfer to their own communities. It is about asking a simple but powerful question: What does our community need to thrive?

Newspapers Atlantic is spearheading the conference because its members collectively are the voice of rural Atlantic Canada. Newspapers Atlantic represents 70 community newspapers with a combined weekly circulation of more than 700,000. Her members are found in communities such as Port aux Basques, Newfoundland and Labrador; Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton; Miramichi, New Brunswick and Alberton, PEI.

Four preeminent Atlantic Canadians have agreed to act as Conference Co-Chairs: Wade MacLauchlan, West Covehead, PEI, President Emeritus of the University of Prince Edward; John Bragg, Collingwood, NS, founder of Oxford Fine Foods, the largest blueberry producer in the world; Gilles LePage, Caraquet, NB, Past CEO Mouvement des Caisses Populaires Acadiennes; and Donna Butt, Trinity, Newfoundland and Labrador, founder of Rising Tide Theatre.

“The success of this Conference begins with bringing together people and ideas from throughout the Atlantic region, in a lively and sustained dialogue, thanks to the initiative of Newspapers Atlantic” said Conference Co-Chair Wade MacLauchlan.  “Long-term success will come with a redefined outlook for vital rural communities, based on a strong sense of place and a commitment to confront our challenges and embrace opportunities.”

An interactive website has launched. It will feature updates on our agenda and promote businesses and ideas that are flourishing in our communities.

Over the coming months members of Newspapers Atlantic will undertake various initiatives aimed at identifying local ideas and solutions that can be brought forward to The Georgetown Conference. We want to hear your ideas for reinventing rural Atlantic Canada. It’s easy to get involved. Contact your local newspaper with your suggestions and join the discussion online. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

“I’m so proud Newspapers Atlantic is taking the lead,” says Paul MacNeill, publisher. “No other organization is better suited to champion the cause of reinvigorating rural communities. Our region has never seen anything on this scale before. The Georgetown Conference will be a dynamic must attend event for anyone dedicated to rural communities.”