Reprint: The Trend of Economic Development Associations on Vancouver Island and Sooke’s Role

The following is a reprint as published in Sooke’s leading newspaper, the Sooke Pocket News. 

I have added some additional photographs to the story as well in order that others from afar might visualize the setting and get a better feeling for Sooke.

 

http://sooke.pocketnews.ca/the-trend-of-economic-development-associations-on-vancouver-island-and-sookes-role/

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District of Sooke, Municipal Hall

Sooke, British Colubmia. Municipal Hall. District of Sooke

-by Michael Clouser, special to SPN

I found it most interesting that Sooke’s Council voted to reverse its decision to participate in the recently forming South Vancouver Island Economic  Development Association (SVIEDA). This came after much enthusiasm for the organization, and even an unanimous vote to join by the Council in December.

According to the Sooke News Mirror, the reason the Council gave for not joining SVIEDA in the end was because it was not represented 100% by businesses on the board. However, I recall reading that the original board composition called for one member of each community (such as Sooke) that contributed would have a board seat. I suspect in the end the board composition was somehow not satisfactory to the Sooke Council.

Can we get more details on this please?

This decision not to join SVIEDA seems to have been made behind closed doors, and was not open to public debate or input in Sooke. I was sent a flyer on one of the original meetings by a Sooke Councillor to whom I am grateful. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend the meeting, which was open to the public. However, I remain curious about Sooke’s involvement or decision not to be involved.

 

The Sooke Economic Development Association — That Wasn’t

From 2012-2014, I served on the Mayor’s Economic Advisory Group after a recommendation from then Mayor Wendal Milne.  It was really more of a think tank to advise the mayor more than anything else, and was facilitated by Dr. Steve Grundy. However, the group had no power and no resources. As the Mayor’s term came to a close, we considered forming a proper entity to actually get things done and implement some of our ideas, and, most importantly, acquire resources for economic development in Sooke. Upon the recommendation of the late Ken Stratford, our group explored the possibility of forming the society we would have called the “Sooke Economic Development Association” or SEDA.  In the end, the group decided to align its efforts with the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce.  Some of the members of the Advisory Group joined the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

However, there is a difference between the proposed Economic Development Association and the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce. The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce has as its core mission the serving of its membership base.The Objectives of the Chamber are to:

  1. be a supportive resource for local businesses to achieve greater success
  2. facilitate new economic development opportunities
  3. foster positive business relationships in the community
  4. constructively influence public policy and governments in supporting free enterprise

 

Sooke, British Columbia, Stick in the Mud Coffee House

Sooke, British Columbia, Canada. Stick-in-the-Mud Coffee House. A key meeting place for the movers and shakers of Sooke.

(from the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce ByLaws)

However, first and foremost, the Chamber of Commerce must serve and support its paying membership base. Whether or not it does that effectively now is up for argument amongst its members and outside observers. However, with limited resources in terms of time and money, the Chamber has to maintain a focus. The second objective, actually facilitating economic development, is another animal altogether, and its doubtful that the Chamber will, in the long run, be able to attract the resources necessary to do much in terms of economic development. While the Chamber did run a brainstorming session in December on economic development, and a lot of good ideas probably arose, such is a long way from the actual implementation of any of these ideas – and it faces an uphill battle in terms of resources and political will, even if its leadership wanted to move forward with some initiatives.

 

Sooke Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Sooke Regional Chamber of Commerce. Sooke, British Columbia, Canada.

Another limitation is the sources of funding themselves. Chambers of Commerce are not eligible for funding under some, such as Western Economic Diversification Canada. In fact, this is probably the reason why the SVIEDA was set up in the first place — to access funding that wasn’t available to the Victoria Chamber of Commerce. Also, it needed a different organizational structure because of its different objectives.

Sooke, British Columbia, Canada

Sooke, British Columbia. New sidewalk, new roundabout

The question for Sooke is whether or not we want to set up our own Economic Development Association. It only takes a few members to start an association, so almost anyone can do it and it doesn’t take local government approval. However, the wider question is whether or not an association would get enough membership interest, and also have enough energy to put in the hard work necessary to bring in additional economic development resources to Sooke. This would mean competing against much larger players in a David vs. Goliath-type struggle. It will take strong leadership and keen resource acquisition skills.

RBC Royal Bank in Sooke, British Columbia, Canada

Sooke, British Columbia, Canada. New RBC branch, constructed in 2015 as the prior branch burnt to the ground. This location is on the Sooke Roundabout

West Shore Economic Development Association

Another recent development is the West Shore Economic Development Association. Supposedly this will be supported by Colwood, Langford, Metchosin and possibly Sooke. What about Port Renfrew? The reasons for this are resource-based;: what many don’t understand is that the West Shore competes with the Capital City of Victoria for resources. These include the Western Economic Diversification Canada Funding. There are other pots of money as well from both BC and the Federal Government available. However, for a long time, Victoria was the dominant force in the Southern part of Vancouver in terms of reaching these resources and building up an effective public relations campaign to sustain such a position. As an example of this, for years there has been a subtle  campaign that went something like this “Technology can only happen in a City, and that City is Victoria.” Actually, I know software developers and technology founders who live outside of the City, and even in Sooke. People who are my neighbors, who write code at home, enjoy the quiet of Sooke and the access to bike trails, hiking and the sea. There is no one preferred geographical or topical setting for technologists. They come in all different shapes and sizes, and like living near mooing cows just as much as they do next to funky cafes that play rock-n-roll.

Sooke, BC roundatbout

Sooke, BC from the roundabout. New construction coming as the downtown core continues to grow in 2016

The whole question of economic development in the region, and where resources get allocated, is in contention. There is stress between the players in the Capital City, such as ViaTec, who want to have access to all the funds, and other players on the Westshore, such as the City of Langford. Further afield, there is tension the rural and semi-rural areas. What about innovation in agriculture and horticulture?  Does innovation on Vancouver Island mean only software and hardware? Or does it include marine? And agriculture? If the latter, Sooke has a role to play and can become a region of innovation for it has resources that other areas don’t.

Sooke, British Columbia, Canada Roundabout

Sooke, BC, 2015 New Roundabout

South Vancouver Island Economic Development Association and its Board of Directors

It seems as though SVIEDA has gone ahead and formed: http://www.yyjprosperity.ca/. In fact, it seems the board has already informed, and DOES NOT have municipality representation on it — rather, board members seem to be from universities, in the case of Pedro Marquez from Royal Roads University,  First Nations, local businesses and other local organizations.

Economic Development – Connotation

Through the Mayor’s Economic Development Advisory Group, I learned that the connotation of “Economic Development” in Sooke means “Real Estate Development” to its residents. However, real estate development is only one part of economic development. There are other avenues as well, such as technology, food (agriculture, horticulture, processing), marine, and others that don’t mean simply building houses or buildings on plots of land.  This is a key perception that needs changing in the community.

An Elephant in the Room

At least one of the elephants in the room, and perhaps what has impeded Sooke from taking a more active stance towards economic development, is the idea that Sooke is simply a commuter community. Many are comfortable with this idea, and I suspect that the majority are happy with Sooke’s role in the local economy being just that. This is a question for the people of Sooke. In fact, it should be put to referendum, or at least a comprehensive survey.  Should Sooke be Governed as if it is Primarily a Commuter Community that serves the Capital City of Victoria?   If vote of the people here is YES, as it well may be, then government, and with it, serving institutions such as the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce, can act in minimalist ways keeping  taxes to a minimum and spending as little as possible in the process. Council meetings can be kept short, government small, and the effort it takes to run the community will be minimal.  After all, the primary of purpose of Sooke would be to feed the Capital City of Victoria with labor and brains. There is nothing inherently wrong with this model. It is a just a decision that the people of Sooke should make, and understand.However, if the people of Sooke want to build a truly special community with its own mode of economy, which might look like place where there are creative jobs in food, arts and technology, where one can ride a bike to work, and one that mixes the rural and urban, then such a vision is going to take investment, time and effort. Importantly, it is going to take a Council and a Mayor that care about economic development.  It will take a visionary and skilled government and probably means replacing most of the people in power today.

Whichever the case, we should settle this once and for all. Is Sooke just a commuter community?

Sooke, BC, Commuter

Sooke, BC, a commuter town? Most commuters will pass through Sooke’s glorious roundabout on the way to work in Victoria, and back again

Key Players in the Western and British Columbia Economic Development Game

Here are some of the players in the game that provide economic development-type funding for the region. Together these comprise a perceived limited resource pool for which organizations, from ViaTec to economic development societies, such as a SEDA, would compete.

However, there are other sources, besides government, for economic development funds. These including private foundations and high net worth individuals.

Final Thoughts

We need to decide just what economic development means for Sooke; if its important, and if Sooke should be more than just a commuter community. From there, we can decide if its best to join an economic development association, start our own, or do something else that will allow our region to compete with others and pull in the resources needed to advance the economy, or not. A good place to start would be a referendum or citizen survey to determine what the people of Sooke really want from Sooke in terms of its place in the economy.

 

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