With Greater Victoria’s economic health almost hitting rock bottom, the majority of the region’s municipal councils have thrown support to the first-ever collaborative approach around economic development.
Twelve of the region’s 13 city councils (Metchosin rejected participation) will chip in funding for the South Vancouver Island Economic Development Association (SVIEDA) to focus on economic development south of the Malahat, giving the not-for-profit organization a taxpayer-supported budget of about $650,000. The private sector and other funders have been asked to collectively contribute an additional $400,000 a year in order to leverage matching provincial and federal grants.
John Wilson, CEO of Wilson’s Transportation Ltd., and an industry supporter, praises the initiative, saying: “A lot of people made a leap of faith to bring cohesiveness around economic development.”
Dan Dagg, SVIEDA’s interim-chair, says for years economic development limped along, never getting wider regional support to get it to grow beyond the $80,000-per-year work of the Greater Victoria Development Association, a subcommittee of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
Significant leadership changes at several municipal councils, coupled with the latest Vital Signs statistics signalling that the region had fallen to 27th place from fourth place in gross domestic product (GDP) compared to other large city regions, opened the door to a different dialogue at the political level.
“When we started showing people that what we are doing isn’t working … that the top three economic concerns for citizens were diversifying the economy, increasing jobs for graduates so we don’t lose them to Fort McMurray and places like that, and improving supports for entrepreneurs … we built a strong case for support and the recognition economic development has to be done and needs to be done regionally.
“The economy does not recognize municipal jurisdictions,” adds Dagg. People live in one municipality, commute to work in another and may do business deals in still others, all in the same day. “Many of us in business cross municipal boundaries five or six times a day.”
Like Tourism Victoria, VIATEC and the Victoria Film Commission — all of which started as committees of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce — Dagg is banking on the new organization to benefit all citizens in the region.
The new organization, expected to be fully functioning by April, will have a larger staff and funding that jumps from $1 per capital to something nearer the $4 per capita funding of Vancouver and Nanaimo. “This is a new approach to economic development. It is not about amalgamation, but about collaboration.”
Wilson adds that the creation of the larger organization leaves the chamber to act as the voice of business and the economic development agency to focus on economic development, not politics.
An executive search firm is working on finding a CEO for the new organization, and Dagg adds that nothing limits staff from the folding GVDA from having a role in the new organization. Meanwhile, SVIEDA is reaching out to the leadership of the region’s nine First Nation communities to invite them to join as equal partners.
An increase in the number of jobs in the region, in medium household income and in federal and provincial funding for the region will be the show of success, says Dagg.
Meanwhile, Jim Hayhurst, CEO of Pretio Interactive, a mobile advertising company, commends the region’s municipalities for coming together and supporting SVIEDA. Hayhurst, who has lived here for 10 years, says, “I would have given us a barely passing grade” for economic development efforts.
“I think we have done a fine job by old measures. But it is not good enough for the 21st century. We are fighting against the Boulders, Austins and Singapores for investment. We have to broaden our appeal and our case for investment and attracting talent. It is about bringing the smart economy and millennials to our region.”
With the new global online marketplace, he adds, “you no longer need customers here to begin a great business here … Economic development has to be beyond the downtown core, retail and tourism.”