The Western Valley of Nova Scotia, Canada is a rural region of some 5600 km2 facing the challenges common to rural areas in the industrialized world: declining population, job losses in its primary industries, low average educational achievement and a high unemployment rate. Yet when polled, residents had strong positive feelings about their community and believed that it would become a substantially better place to live and work over the next several years. Believing that this attitude was a resource not to be wasted, the Western Valley government began a series of initiatives to help the community recover and grow in the modern economy.
A Community Fiber Network
The Western Valley had little hope of attracting private-sector telcos to deploy a network for its small, dispersed population. To combat this problem, the local government created its own Valley Community Fibre Network in 2008. Since its establishment, the Valley Community Fibre Network has laid 186km of fiber connecting multiple towns, municipalities and universities in the region. Western Valley also has dark fiber services available for businesses, public-sector enterprises and local and national carriers as of 2017. The new fiber infrastructure provides connectivity for roughly one-third of the region that previously had no reliable Internet infrastructure.
Digital Skills Training for All
Beginning in the late 1990s, Western Valley has worked to educate all its citizens, from youth to seniors, in digital skills. The Nova Scotia Community Access Program (NSCAP) offers free digital training programs at over 200 sites throughout the province. NSCAP provides programs on a wide variety of topics, including training and support for mobile devices, 3D printing labs, workshops and competitions and small-business technology training. It also features robotics clubs for youth and digital skills internships.
In addition to the NSCAP-provided programs, Western Valley has established the Student Summer Skills Initiative (SKILL). The program connects students with local non-profit organizations to help them gain work experience and provide them opportunities to work within their local communities. Non-profits receive wage-assistance incentives to hire SKILL students, ensuring that as many organizations and students as possible can participate in the program.
Producing Renewable Energy through Waste Cleanup
In 2012, the Western Valley government partnered with local businesses in the mink industry to introduce an anaerobic digester. The digester converts mink industry waste as well as municipal bio waste into methane gas and manure. The gas is burned onsite to generate electricity, which is then returned to the grid to help supplement Western Valley’s electrical costs. Use of the anaerobic digester also helps capture and contain greenhouse gases produced by local industry.
In a traditional rural economy, the Western Valley government has planted the seeds for major change in how local cultures and economies interconnect with the rest of Canada and the world, to their mutual benefit.