City staff will be lending their economic development expertise to cities in Ukraine after council gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to participation in a federally funded program.
Abbotsford will be one of 12 municipalities from across Canada participating in an initiative that aims to help Ukrainian cities and towns develop strategies to bolster their local economies.
The five-year, $19.5 million program is chiefly funded by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.
It will see staff from Ukraine municipalities visit Abbotsford and the other Canadian communities, while the Canadian staffers will return the favour in annual visits.
The program, known as the Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance, will hope to build on work done by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) since 2010.
That work had helped Ukraine municipalities develop strategies to increase tourism, attract foreign investors, and open business support centres.
The FCM has worked with municipalities around the major western city of Lviv and Dnipropetrovsk, in the country’s centre. Neither city has seen any conflict since unrest in the country’s east began in 2014.
Abbotsford was identified by the FCM because of staff’s credentials, and because Ukraine also has strong agriculture and aerospace sectors.
A staff report also notes cultural ties, with around 6,650 Abbotsford residents of direct Ukrainian origin.
Several councillors expressed enthusiasm for the project. They pointed both to the importance of sharing valuable knowledge to those cities in Ukraine, and to the indirect benefits Abbotsford itself may receive.
Coun. Patricia Ross said the program could help bolster Abbotsford’s national and international recognition, while Couns. Dave Loewen and Sandy Blue both noted that city staff will in turn be able to grow their own skill sets and learn from their Ukrainian counterparts.
“That’s an intangible that’s hard to measure,” Loewen said.
The program would have a direct cost to Abbotsford of around $3,100 per year, and the city would also pay for the time of staff who visit the Ukraine.