When Port Alberni, B.C., ranked dead last in MoneySense’s annual Best Places to Live in 2014 due to its high crime rate, rainy weather and high unemployment, Ben West—a Vancouver-based entrepreneur who grew up in Port Alberni—was furious. He responded by launching a social media campaign highlighting things Alberni residents love about this “awful” place, like arts festivals and kiteboard gatherings on the beach. The campaign was funny at fi rst, says West, cofounder of the app company Eventbase. But upon reflection, he admitted that while Port Alberni has its charms, it does suffer from problems, in particular the lack of high-paying jobs not tied to the forestry or fishing industries. So he took it upon himself to create one. Using $10,000 of his own money, West and his wife created a scholarship to enable a Port Alberni resident to take UBC’s social media management course. They also pledged to equip the winner with a suite of software tools, and provide assistance in building a portfolio of clients.
Tashia Potter, who had recently moved back to Port Alberni, was struggling to make ends meet when she won the contest eight months ago. Since then she has started her own social media consultancy and is earning well above the city’s median household income. She now counts property developer Townline and the South By South West music festival as clients—and she’s already contracting work out with plans to hire another person full time. One job isn’t enough to lift Port Alberni (No. 207 out of 209 cities this year) on our list, but West has shown how concerned citizens can have a real impact on quality of life in their hometowns.