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Chamber welcomes new economic development officer
Inuvik economy needs to broaden borders, say directors

Samantha Stokell
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, July 14, 2011

INUVIK - With a new manager of economic development officer in Inuvik, a revitalized chamber of commerce and large projects such as the Tuktoyaktuk-to-Inuvik road on the agenda, Inuvik's economy should receive a kickstart.

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Lee Smallwood, president of Inuvik Chamber of Commerce. - NNSL file photo

Jackie Challis started as Inuvik's manager of economic development on July 4 and is still settling into the position. Although she's been gone from Inuvik for two years, she previously worked as the town's tourism co-ordinator.

Since she is new to the position, she was not available for an interview until projects and direction for the position have been established.

In the meantime, the Chamber of Commerce, which held its first annual general meeting since its revival in 2009, looks forward to building a relationship with this new economic force in Inuvik.

"In my mind, the goal is to ensure the business community is profitable and can operate and balance," said Lee Smallwood, president of the chamber. "The chamber is an organization that wants to work together with the economic officer."

Smallwood would like to invite the officer to sit on the board of directors for the chamber. Former economic development officer Larry Peckford initiated the rebirth of the Chamber of Commerce in 2009, indicating the relationship between the town and business organization.

While Smallwood and director Joe Lavoie say Inuvik's economy is not great, they note it's not as bad as it has been. Lavoie remembers a time in the early nineties when people had to close up and leave town. The economy now remains in a holding pattern while decisions are made about the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline. In the meantime, though, bills must be paid.

"The oil companies came and 30 years ago people started building infrastructure, putting it into place with the expectations that something will happen," Lavoie said. "We're in a state of limbo. You've got to go on what you sell everyday. You can't count on a pipeline when you don't know if it will happen."

Expectations now surround the potential of the Tuktoyaktuk to Inuvik Highway, which received a $150-million commitment over five years from the federal government. While that won't cover the entire budget, it does bring it into reality.

While the road will connect Tuktoyaktuk to the rest of Canada, Inuvik should benefit from the increased road traffic to the Arctic Ocean. The construction, maintenance, and additional tourists should boost Inuvik's economy.

"It will be a boost of confidence to business owners," Smallwood said. "If people don't have hope, then the economy is dead. If they don't have hope, they won't take risks."

The chamber would also like to discuss a five-year strategic plan based on economic initiatives that aren't related to the pipeline. Projects such as the Mackenzie Valley Highway and the Mackenzie Valley fibre optics link.

They do have concerns about the number of big construction projects finishing in Inuvik and how that will effect the economy, or whether the GNWT will cut funding to the community because of the new construction.

Overall, the chamber hopes Challis will promote Inuvik and let people in the south know about the potential Inuvik has and make tourists aware of the experience waiting for them.

"It's a great opportunity. We hope that they see that potential to come here," Smallwood said. "From our side, we know that the place is not dead and not on life support but there's still a lot of work to do."

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