Potential for Growth: Enterprise network CEO Ells sees bright future for Valley

Published on February 5, 2017

Middleton businessman Howard Selig talks with Valley Regional Enterprise Network CEO Kelly Ells during a meet-and-greet pop-up held Friday, Feb. 3 in Middleton. The REN is an inter-municipal corporation that partners with the province to guide regional economic development and foster rural entrepreneurship and investment. Pop-ups are also planned for Windsor and Kentville Jan. 6 and Jan. 8 respectively.

©Lawrence Powell

MIDDLETON - The CEO of the Valley Regional Enterprise Network is optimistic about rural Nova Scotia’s economic future and sees great potential for growth in the Annapolis Valley.

Kelly Ells and her staff were in Middleton Friday at lunchtime to explain how the Valley REN works and to field questions from local business people in a pop-up at the fire hall -- complete with PowerPoint, business cards, and brochures.

“I’m always optimistic there’s a potential for growth,” she said. “I think that Nova Scotia in general is in a good position for growth, and I think some of that goes back to the shipbuilding contracts that we have.”

She said as Halifax Regional Municipality grows that helps the Valley particularly because it can support HRM but also have its own businesses here. “I’m very optimistic about growth in the Valley,” she said, “And I think we’ve done quite well and I would hope to see that we’re going to do much better.”

Middleton businessman Howard Selig, whose company Valley FlaxFlour won Taste of Nova Scotia’s Product of the Year recently, agreed with Ells and pointed to farming as an example.


Other Pop-Ups

The Middleton meet-and-greet pop-up was the first of three that Valley REN has planned.

  • -- A second one is scheduled for Feb. 6 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at the West Hants municipal office.


  • -- The third pop-up will be Feb. 8 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at the Valley REN office at 35 Webster Street in Kentville.


I’m very optimistic about growth in the Valley. And I think we’ve done quite well and I would hope to see that we’re going to do much better. Kelly Ells


“I think that one of the biggest opportunities is still in agriculture,” Selig said. “Kings County has a huge agriculture component in its economy,” he said. “Annapolis County not so much but we have a huge land base of small farms that could – with the right inputs from government and from young people coming on and the right incentives – these people could be growing organic foods, local foods, and foods that could feed into the local market more. The capacity here in that area is huge.”

“And I think building on that agriculture (sector) that agro-tourism piece is also there as we look at the provincial government and federal government getting behind the whole winery industry,” said Ells. “That’s a global industry and the Nova Scotia wines are certainly doing well globally. I think that here in the Valley we’re well poised for that. We have a number of successful wineries but we also have programs coming in to help new wineries. And we have a wine institute that’s being located at Acadia University that’s going to bring in the expertise. We have the benefits of Perennia that have also brought on some extra capacity in terms of growing that industry. So I think we have a lot of opportunity in this particular area for agro-tourism, for agriculture in itself, and the innovation around agriculture.”



Ells said the Valley is also well positioned in terms of broadband and connectivity.

“That opens up the opportunity for innovation and technology innovation that allows us to maybe manage our crops differently than we have in the past,” she said. “I think there is wide amount of opportunity. How do we select those one or two champions that are really going to move us forward?”

Selig said that’s where an analysis of all factors comes in.

“What’s the world look like today?” he said. “What are the components and what can we do here to feed into our local community, grow our local community but have exports? Exports that we send out to the world that bring the money back home so that we don’t always have to be generating our own wealth. Because you can’t do that.”

RENs are inter-municipal corporations, with volunteer boards drawn from the private sector, with a strategic focus on business. With the province as a partner, their role is to guide regional economic development and foster rural entrepreneurship and investment.

Partners are Glooscap First Nations, Kings County, West Hants, and the towns of Berwick, Hantsport, Kentville, Middleton, Windsor, and Wolfville.


Reaching Out

Valley REN has offices in Kentville, but since the network is a Valley-wide entity, Ells said it was important to reach the whole community.

“We wanted to come to Middleton and meet with the Middleton businesses in their backyard as opposed to having them come to see us,” Ells said. “We want them to understand that we’re here to try to promote the entire region, encourage new businesses to come here, to understand what are the benefits of doing business here so that we can then announce those benefits, promote those benefits, to other parts of the world so that other businesses can see what a great place it is to come and locate.”

She cited quality of the workforce, the quality of life, and the Valley’s natural beauty as enticements.

Valley REN: “We make connections for businesses and investors, while supporting the development of key economic sectors in the Annapolis Valley region.”

©Lawrence Powell

Unlocking Opportunities

Network all about relationships and connections


By Lawrence Powell

The Spectator

MIDDLETON - While there wasn’t a big crowd, staff at the Valley Regional Enterprise Network were kept busy talking with local business people at the Middleton fire hall Feb. 3.

Middleton is one of eight community partners that belong to the group, including Glooscap First Nations, plus the province.

“The pop-up today – it’s a drop-in style event for businesses in Middleton and surrounding area,” said Economic Development Officer James Schofield. “It’s an opportunity for us to tell businesses in our communities what types of free supports are available to them through the REN. And also talk a bit about our mandate and what it is that we’re doing and how we’re trying to move economic development across the Valley region.”

Valley REN believes that by working together there are greater opportunities to create a more prosperous region, and the Feb. 3 event was the first of three pop-ups. The second one is Feb. 6 in Windsor, and the third is Feb. 8 in Kentville.

“Businesses are encouraged just to come, have some conversations, network with other businesses in the area, and learn more about what the REN can do to help support their business,” Schofield said.

He said the Middleton event was the first of its kind for Valley REN.

“We want to try to make sure we are engaging with businesses right across the Valley and providing the opportunity for them to learn about the free business supports,” he said. “We operate primarily as a connector. We build relationships with various government programs and supports. The work that we do one-on-one with businesses is really centered around learning what their opportunities for growth are, what some of their challenges are, and then making sure they can connect to the proper resources, the funding programs, or whatever actions they need to really help sustain growth in their particular business.

“So we take an individualized approach with each business that we work with and ensure throughout the entire process that they’re getting the referrals they require and the challenges and the opportunities that they have identified to us – we are helping them put the supports in place to achieve their goals.”