Kugaaruk Mayor Stephan Inaksajak thinks the best bet for more employment in his community is government jobs.

Cambridge Bay ambassadors return from the Crystal Serenity cruise ship, which has visited the community for the past two summers, providing a boost to the economy. The Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce is planning a three-day workshop in Cambridge Bay in November to examine options to strengthen the regional economy. photo courtesy of Wayne Gregory

There are a fair number of high school graduates in town, Inaksajak said, and they want to remain close to their families in Kugaaruk rather than travel for work.

“The only solution I can think of is to get more government offices here,” he said. “The only thing with that is the bigger communities get all the benefits.”

The Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce wants to help all five communities in the region map out ways to diversify their economies. That is the reason behind an economic development workshop scheduled for Nov. 21 to 23 in Cambridge Bay.

“It’s basically to figure out how can we work as a region so that we grow the pot more, we make the pie larger and foster better economic development in the region,” said Cynthia Ene, the chamber’s executive director.

Gold miner TMAC Resources, with its Hope Bay gold property, and exploration company Sabina Gold & Silver, which is advancing its Back River project closer to a mining stage, are “pillars” of the Kitikmeot economy, Ene acknowledged. However, the chamber wants to explore non-resource based employment alternatives that aren’t vulnerable to commodity cycles.

Maximizing tourism opportunities will be among the discussions at the November workshop, Ene noted. While Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Kugluktuk can identify ways to optimize offerings to cruise ship passengers, Kugaaruk and Taloyoak – each with a population of close to 1,000 – are not destinations for the growing number of Arctic cruise ships. Inaksajak said he’d welcome more tourists, but it’s not a well-established industry in Kugaaruk.

“It know it would be very beneficial for the community,” Inaksajak said. “At the same time, it’s very expensive to fly here.”

Ene said year-round tourism will be examined as well.

“Every time I’m flying through Yellowknife, I see how the tourism industry there is just booming. There’s no hotel space available. It’s booked months in advance. They’re obviously using all sorts of other businesses, buses and restaurants,” she said. “We’re a couple of hours flight away from them. Why aren’t we able to at least attract some of the traffic? How can we develop that more? How do we brand ourselves to be known for arts and culture?”

There are also adventure-seekers who could form a winter tourism market, she added.

Once the Kitikmeot chamber, which was revived earlier this year, better understands the communities’ priorities, it can help create synergies, said Ene. Where hurdles exist are on a larger scale, the chamber can lobby the new territorial government that will be in place later this year, she added.

In addition to the community delegations, workshop organizers have invited a number of government officials, including from Polar Knowledge Canada, fisheries, the arts sector, as well as business consultants and mining executives.

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