The Georgetown Conference was held in 2013 as a forum for community leaders in Atlantic Canada to begin a dialogue about common problems faced in the region, characterized by such issues as unemployment, outmigration, and an aging population.
Building on the momentum generated in 2013, the Georgetown Conference is coming back in 2016 to reinvigorate the region and inspire new ideas for community building.
For the first one, Georgetown Mayor Lewis Lavandier was approached by organizers to see if the town would be interested in being the poster town for small communities that faced these economic, social and cultural problems.
Mayor Lavandier was apprehensive because he didn’t want to be labelled as the town that was dying, but he was reassured the host town would be portrayed as a shining example for small communities around the region.
A couple of years later, he thinks the original conference was one of the best things the town has ever been involved in.
“I think the Georgetown Conference showed me that a lot of the other communities that were successful started out with a lot less than what we had,” he said.
“When I came out of that conference I said to myself, ‘You know, we have a lot of assets here and a lot of things we could make work for us.’”
Looking back, it couldn’t have happened at a better time, he said.
“I was just getting in as mayor and we were kind of discouraged with the way things were going. The shipyard was closing, the timberyard was closing, there was not a lot of industry and not a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. There didn’t seem to be.”
But after the conference, he was able to look past all that and see the positive things happening within the community, and the potential for growth.
Now he’s convinced that other Atlantic Canadian communities need to focus on their positive attributes and take a positive approach.
That’s what Georgetown’s been doing.
“It’s been working for us. I think we’re becoming known as the community that’s proactive. We’re trying to promote the town and it’s working,” Mayor Lavandier said.
When you get everybody in the community working toward the same goals, it makes revitalization easier, he said.
“I think it all stems from the conference, as far as I’m concerned. It gave me inspiration to try to focus and try to lead my council in doing something like that and being proactive.”
The town got a lot of positive feedback from delegates who attended the conference in 2013, Mayor Lavandier said.
“Still today I talk to people who say they attended the conference. It did a lot for Georgetown and I think it did a lot for the area and the region.”
People involved in the conference saw the benefits of working together as a group in collaboration, he said.
“I think that makes a big difference when people are buying into that type of thing. All of the communities involved are in the same boat.”
Mayor Lavandier thinks it would be worthwhile for other community leaders in the region to attend the next installment, Georgetown 2.0 Solutions..
“For myself, it was an excellent tool to give me a different outlook on things. I think other community leaders, if they have the opportunity, should take advantage of it.”
He thinks Atlantic Canadian community leaders are consciously taking a regional approach now, something that hadn’t really been looked at prior to the 2013 conference.
“Since we started to do that, other communities are buying in too. What can we do to help each other? It’s not all about them and us and anymore. It’s we.”