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Bev Thornton first Canadian to win prestigious award

Friday, 27 October 2017. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Bev Thornton first Canadian to win prestigious award
Bev Thornton is the first Canadian recipient of the Jeffrey A. Finkle Organizational Leadership Award, recognizing her work with in economic development.   Photo by Caitlin Clow

Bev Thornton first Canadian to win prestigious award

By Caitlin Clow

Collaboration, co-operation and achievements keep Bev Thornton excited to go to work each day.

And now, her hard work and dedication to the Alberta SouthWest Regional Alliance have earned her a prestigious international award, presented last month in Toronto.

“That was really quite special,” says Bev, executive director of Alberta SouthWest. “And really, a tribute to the communities that all work together, because you don’t ever do those kinds of things by yourself.”

The Jeffrey A. Finkle Organizational Leadership Award acknowledges an individual who has devoted at least 15 years to an economic development group. The winner’s resume illustrates a leadership style that exudes integrity, tenacity and a philanthropic spirit.

Colleagues at Economic Developers Alberta recognized the similarities between Bev and the criteria for the award and nominated her straight away.

Bev was named as the first Canadian recipient by the International Economic Development Council in September.

The former high school teacher moved to southern Alberta from Saskatchewan with an education degree in her back pocket and began teaching in Claresholm. Later, she and her family moved to Pincher Creek.

While covering for a maternity leave in the Provincial Building’s career centre pilot project in the 1980s, Bev thought it was fun and ensured that by the time her colleague returned there would be enough work for two.

“I worked at that, which was really fun for a lot of years,” she says. “It was very entrepreneurial and we were building things and developing workshops and career-planning materials.

“But then I got wind the province was encouraging collaboration between communities.”

This piqued Bev’s interest.

Former Pincher Creek mayor Art Bonertz jumped at this opportunity. He called together neighbouring mayors from Crowsnest Pass, Cardston and Claresholm areas to see where they could work together to accomplish something beneficial for all communities.

“Art really was the person who envisioned that this could happen and I give him a lot of credit for just having the vision that this could work.”

Bev immediately volunteered her time to help the group along.

Through her work with this group, she was tapped to work for Alberta Economic Development.

“Our job was to build this regional group of communities,” she explains. “We started with five and it grew to 11. And now, we’re at 16.”

Alberta SouthWest has a membership population of over 36,000. Together, Bev and 15 other board members get to play “what if” and think of creative ideas to stimulate economic growth in the communities.

Over the years, a number of projects have been completed to draw investment and tourism to the region, including Reel Adventures Alberta Movie Maps, Southwest Connect and a Crown of the Continent geotourism overview.

Pathways to Prosperity was a project Bev and her colleagues worked on with a graduate student. It examined the economic opportunities in the Crown of the Continent — where British Columbia, Alberta and Montana meet.

“People are attracted to these types of landscape,” she says.

“It’s probably worth our while to respect this landscape, celebrate it and keep it how it is — not just let it become overrun with things, as much as we want to encourage business. We want business to develop in harmony with the landscape.”

A regional licensing program, now in its 16th year, allows for home-based and small businesses to work in neighbouring communities.

“That was a good little project,” she says. “It just keeps rolling along and it saves some businesses hundreds of dollars.”

Economic development, defined as “creating the context for growth to occur,” plays an often-misunderstood but important role within a community, Bev says.

“We don’t have to do all the stuff, we just have to make sure things are in place so it’s friendly for business, attractive for people to live here, and we keep working away at it trying to create that context.”

There is still much potential in southwestern Alberta and in Pincher Creek, she says.

“We’ll just keep on going and get people proud of being here, and attracting people here, and grow our communities.”

Although she is at an age where many peers consider retirement, Bev says she’s not ready yet.

“People keep saying, ‘Aren’t you done yet?’ And, maybe when I’m not looking they’re saying, ‘When is that old bag going to give it up?’ ” she says with a laugh.

“I think retirement is going to something, and I haven’t really found something that I want to do more than what I’m doing now.”