Canada’s rural communities must work together, instead of competing against each other, when it comes to economic development, experts are urging.

About 100 municipal leaders from across the country are meeting Friday at the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation conference in Thunder Bay, hoping to leave with with ideas and concepts on how to help rural areas grow and prosper.

Heather Hall

Heather Hall, a post-doctoral fellow at Memorial University in St John's, one of the keynote speakers at the Canada Rural Revitalization Foundation's 25th conference. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Heather Hall, an expert in regional development and one of the conference’s keynote speakers, says rural communities tend to have an isolated mindset.

“You get used to doing things in your own community, not necessarily talking to your neighbours and realizing that they're in the same boat as you,” said Hall, who has a decade of experience working on research and policy projects related to northern Ontario.

She says part of the problem is the government’s approach to resource-based communities.

“I think a lot of our regional development funding is often times competitive-based grants, so you're usually competing against your neighbours for a government grant as well to do community development,” Hall said. “So it kind of works against acting like a region.”

Capitalizing booms, mitigating busts

She says that the boom and busts of economies built on natural resources should be approached differently by governments.

"Hopefully we can start thinking about ways we can re-position regional development as an investment versus something that is a subsidy to deal with economic challenges or political tension," she said.

Ryan Gibson

Ryan Gibson, president of the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Ryan Gibson, president of the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation, says that mitigating and capitalizing on those booms and busts is a major theme of the conference. Another is finding ways to re-invest value back into the communities where the natural resources were extracted.

“Resources have left the region, and often when those resources leave, so do the monetary values of those resources,” Gibson said.

Conference organizer Rhonda Koster of Lakehead University says Thunder Bay is an ideal place to discuss the impact of industry coming and going.

"Right now northern Ontario, Thunder Bay and our region are on the cusp of resource developments and all the opportunities and all of the challenges that that presents," he said.