I was recently asked what the state of our economic development commission is. The short is: It’s still on standby.
Some have expressed to me that it’s a waste of time and money. Other have expressed that we HAVE TO try something.
I am with the later camp. We have to work with local industries and businesses to build the valley’s economic future. Notice how I said VALLEY and not Cobble Hill?
There is no way any electoral area can forge its own path to economic prosperity. The Local government limits out powers and we are geographically spread too thin to have the critical mass needed for economic independence. In short… we are stronger together. Each area presents its own strengths: Cobble Hill with it’s farmland, Cowichan Lake region with its forests and lake, Duncan with its commercial infrastructure.. the list goes on.
Over the last few months, I have met with various businesses, land use planners, economists and interested parties to come up with a strategy that could be one way of pointing us in the right way. You can download the document here: EDCRebootversion2
The short version of the document is:
– we need to know if we are in surplus or deficit of commercial/industrial land
– we need to know what TYPES of those lands we have IE – retail commercial vs office space commercial
– we need to move towards a climate that supports and builds small, local businesses. Gone are the days of BIG corporations saving us.
– we need to work on the strengths of each area not try to be everything to everyone.
If you have any comments or concerns, please email me at email@example.com. For those unable to download the PDF, below is the document in text format.
EDC Reboot ideas
Assuming we restore funding to previous 2014 levels, we have $550,000 to work with minus 55k for sports tourism and $25k in film= $470,000
From a land use perspective, we have some fundamental issues that we haven’t resolved as a region that is making economic development impossible. More of that later.
With a renewing pot of funds, we could reach out to organizations “with skin in the game” to leverage funds. Groups like the BC Real estate foundation prefer to match up funds on land use projects and we know the province and the Feds like matching dollars too. Then we also have organizations like the Coastal Economic Trust to work with.
Commission structures work well when there is a communal interest involved but this structure has been terribly flawed from the start. How can one person possibly represent an entire industry? How can they be knowledgeable in a dozen other fields? And when money is on the table, how can we expect one business interest to concede to another?
Also, having spoke with past directors and volunteers on the commission and we have lost some INCREDIBLE talent at the table with such a flawed system.
Yes, I do have an alternative.
Here are some of the areas that we first need to address as a REGION in YEAR ONE…
Land Inventory & Land Economist – $100,000
Before we can really attract new business or grow existing business, we need to know how much land we have of each type AND what we are lacking.
A Land Economist is someone who deals in this type of work. They will not just “inventory” the land but also assess where certain kinds of business can thrive. For example, for every 100 houses, you require: a park, grocery store, and small commercial space.
This would help both our electoral areas and municipalities manage their space more effectively knowing where to allow development. It will also encourage investors and give them piece of mind knowing that they are developing in an area that studies have shown will succeed.
They also look at possibilities of a region.
COULD Lake Cowichan could become a world class fly fishing lake? IF SO, what infrastructure will it require? Hotels, commercial space, docks? How can we work with the province and the private forestry lands to ensure the visual landscape stays beautiful while respecting a companies need to turn a profit?
COULD Youbou develop a permanent “noise park / outdoor concert” venue that hosts world class shows with a rustic cabin camp park. If so, what amenities will be needed, how much power, where is the land to do it????
Could Cobble Hill be a rustic village with boutique and small scale farmers producing local fresh food. IF SO, What zoning is needed, what processing facilities are needed and how much land to allocate?????
Once we have the broad picture, we need to look at specialist land economists who can help further refine the scope of our land use….
Recreation and Tourism – $50,000
A specialist this area often have travelled the world and seen various kinds of recreation and tourism that can be molded to different areas.
How do we capitalize on our vast parks network to create a world renowned mountain biking circuit?
How do we attract the Canadian National Rowing team to practice year around on quamichan lake?
How do we turn lake cowichan into a fishing capital and keep the locals feeling happy?
Once we have a detailed analysis for possibilities in the valley, we can coax entrepreneurs to open shops, offer tours, and start the industries from the ground up.
Hotel economist – $50,000
We have heard it time and time again, our lodgings here in the valley are a serious bottleneck to holding larger, high calibre events.
Or even simply look at the BC Summer Games… will we have ENOUGH lodging?
When people lodge in Victoria, they spend dollars there that could have been spent LOCALLY.
We could hold conferences here in the valley where organizations would LOVE to hold their events and then offer wine tours, trail tours and recreation activities
What TYPE of hotels do we need? 5star? 4 star?
Do they need conference space?
Should they be by the river?
Once we have this report, we can seed the document to investors groups who will see that by doing the previous work of assessing our land inventory and recreation/tourism profiles, we are serious about economic development.
Agricultural land economist – $100,000
This would entail a full land analysis of the valley. This means that we would know the optimal growing places for vineyards, orchard, grazing and small scale farming. Our land would be put to the best use and farmers wouldn’t lose their shirt in the process.
These specialists can offer insight into specialty crops like mushrooms, cranberries, and blueberries.
2 x GIS staff – $120,000 (2 years?)
Almost all of this work requires mapping, zoning and data. With out the temporary GIS staff, this would drag out for 2-3 years and cripple our already overloaded GIS department. In between lulls, these extra staff could process back logged work like the lydar data that currently sits unused.
FROM LADYSMITH to CROFTON to MILL BAY…
After doing this work, we could assess where we have a glut of industrial or commercial land. We will learn where we are in DEFICIT of this land and even more importantly what KIND of development is required.
For example, in South Cowichan, there is a deficit of small commercial office space for lease. The smallest space you can find is 950square feet. I know this because my wife was looking for a small space in south cowichan but this story isn’t enough. We need a report to show this to be the case. It not enough just to know that we have “lots of commercial land”.
From that point, we can discuss possible re-zonings to help build our communites to be more complete.
We would have a full map of where the best land use is, where developments will most likely succeed and new industries that will take us out of the twenty year forestry hang over. Furthermore, it is my belief that with a proper landuse plan in place, we can STRENGTHEN our values as communities. There’s no way a 14 story hotel is going into Lake Cowichan but is it more in line that a Ti-Namarah style resort go into the rustic community of Lake Cowichan? Possibly.
Once the reports are in and the data settles, investors, entrepreneurs and developers will have a road map of economic growth in the Cowichan Valley. Keep in mind, the above is a ONE TIME INVESTMENT that provides a roadmap for YEARS of our economic development.
Some other Economic Sectors that are known to us now. More will certainly arise once we have had an assessment done.
Technology sector – $15,000/yr (2-3year test pilot)
Innovation Island has experience in accelerator programs for the tech sector. This is where young tech entrepreneurs can come, pitch their ideas, seek mentorship and connect with funding.
The first step is to simply try to gauge the talent pool and tech potential of the region. Innovation island will leverage the dollars with the BC Innovation Center to host monthly gathers and guest speakers. This gathering also gathers mentors and investors in the same location. This forms the nucleus of the tech community.
If and when the group gets large enough, there can be discussions about leasing commercial space to facilitate an accelerator program.
With all this regional planning, we can ensure that the economic opportunities being presented align with out OCPs and community values!
Once we know what industries are open to us, we could commit a portion of EDC funding to support specific fields. IE – Agriculture, tourism, infrastructure, marketing
For example we could commit $100,000 to Agriculture for:
- buy local advertising campaign
- establishing a land bank system (updated every two years)
- online video farm incubator
- sponsor an incubator farm with MOU (lease to buy)
- support the start up of a small scale farmers cooperative
Investment portal – $10,000
Once we have the research done, we will want to connect the investors and entrepreneurs to the opportunities being presented. Furthermore, we can connect the land area of interest to the corresponding development/zoning bylaws.
Industry Summits – $ unknown
Remember what I said about no longer having a commission?
I would argue that we can take the “one person represents the entire industry” model and turn it into a much more powerful Summit model.
Example – Could we have a “Tourism Summit” at the end of September that brings together all tourism businesses and discuss their challenges/successes of the year? Yup!
But why stop there? Through workshops and discussions, we could hear what we could do as a local government for them. Granted, we can’t fix everything but can we take some of those concerns to AVICC or UBCM? Maybe. We could at least be aware of these issues when we meet with ministers.
And in the event that some “work” needs to be done as a result of these summits, we can assemble specialized taskforces of industry experts to research, reach out and be the best they can be without having to bring others up to speed like the old commission model did.
If held yearly, the ability to report back also yields a sort of responsibility for local government and allows us to see where we are succeeding and lacking.
These summits can serve businesses beyond talking with local government. Chamber of Commerce’s, Provincial and federal officials and other partners could attend these very focused groups. And imagine what business owners outside of the region will think when they hear of such a model being implemented? “That place sounds open for business!”
We need to stop hoping for the silver bullet big company to come create jobs. The reality is that job creation is happening in small and new business. Using microloans, we can flip our whole paradigm into supporting local entrepreneurs. As a recipient of a community microloan, I can attest to the power microloans have on a starting entrepreneur.
Granted, the CVRD cannot get into the practice of loans, but we are with in our powers to work with groups like Community Futures or CALL to give a grant for them to deal with the loans. But the power of microloans is not so much with in the money but rather within the community, support and MENTORSHIP that comes with it.
I was given $5000 and a mentor to work with to help me through the start up of a small business. He helped with stuff like: how to write invoices, how to deal with difficult customers, what to look for in employees… and so on and so forth. How can we tie in the chamber of commerce’s to help build our economy?
The best part? There are dozens of models to follow that have proven track records of helping an entrepreneur and building the economy. Plus, the idea is this is a one time payment, not ongoing funding.
Tie in: The previous report to identify small office space ties directly into these entrepreneurs who may need small office space to start. There are even opportunities like “The Hive” in Vancouver, “watershed” in Victoria, which is a shared office space featuring shared printers, conference rooms and even shared accounting/secretary services. Yes, kind of like a coop.
Park and Trail mapping – $100,000
We all believe that our natural assets are one of our biggest selling points but the reality is that every community on the island has similar parks and trails… so the question becomes, how are we differentiating ours?
One big step is to map them into both physical form and into an app for mobile devices. The mapping can showcase accessibility, mode of transit (bike/walk), and within the app it can be done in different languages!
Just look at the galloping goose in Victoria and how it benefits the citizens and communities there.
How does land use planning move forward economic development?
Developers will do these kinds of studies on their own when interested in an area. We are laying the groundwork for optimal land use, highest chances of success and possible opportunities no one has picked up on yet. This saves the investors and entrepreneurs large costs.
Think of it like a garden or farm land. Instead of fencing an area and throwing some seeds down and hoping for Mother Nature takes care of it, we are mapping out the best soil for certain crops. We don’t grow the crops, biology takes care of that. We don’t make businesses, we just set the stage.
What are some other benefits to land use planning?
ENVIRONMENT – We have a vast amount of land to manage within the CVRD. This leaves environmentally sensitive areas, especially in electoral areas, vulnerable to development if we don’t have a comprehensive plan in place.
BIGGER PICTURE – This kind of land use planning ties in with our regional growth strategy and our inter connected plan thingy. We will have to do these plans anyway if we wish to move ahead with these plans.
RESOURCES – We have to stop building random developments in the middle of no where only to have to service them with transit, sewer, water, garbage and recycling. Urban containment boundaries exist in some OCP’s but this planning turns them from theory to practice.
How long is this LUP good for?
The large plan is good for 40-50 years. With the overall $450,000 price tag, that works out to 9,000/yr.
the hotel plan is good for 5 years because if lots of action is taken, it needs updating to reflect a changing landscape.
What’s after this?
This is a rough idea of how we can plan ahead. This sets the stage to find out what we can be the best at in our areas. This plan also lays the ground work for working more closely with the municipalities which have been silos from the electoral areas in regards to economic development.
With the groudn work set, we can hire or contract specialists to help hone the plan further. Perhaps the low hanging fruit that we havent seen will require just a year of specialized work. Perhaps it will need a long term employee. Who knows?
Film Cowichan with out a doubt has shown that the miniscule dollars we put in create HUGE economic benefits for the valley. This 10 year pilot project is LONG over due for a funding increase. With a full time position in conjunction with a land use plan, it’s possible we can establish the filming warehouse we heard about somewhere in the valley. These “soundstages” as they are called, transform communities because major film studio have a home base to operate from as well as film inside of… look at the green screen special effects that dominate movies now. That is all filmed in a soundstage that private investors build.
Sports tourism is another low investment that could yield huge possibilities with proper funding. They have laid out a plan and have shown other regions that have proven results on the return on investment. This isn’t just made up, thin air stuff. For $55,000, Nanaimo has returned MILLIONS in economic spin off. The last budget cuts took sports tourism’s funding from 55k to 25k. I believe that we need to reinstate the funding.
Thank you for your time in reading this. It has been a labour of love in the hopes that young people and young families can call the Cowichan Valley home for a long time.