With apologies to Jerry Lee Lewis, there’s certainly a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on around here these days. You can view Jerry Lee on YouTube, or catch similar vibes emanating from the District of Squamish economic development front.
Is it only my imagination, or is one of the fastest growing business sectors in town the economic growth assessment industry? Apparently DOS economic development lead hand Dan McRae is so overworked that he is in the process of hiring an assistant.
Last November his department interviewed 73 local employers from 16 different industries and those businesses anticipated increasing their staff from 1,333 to 1,591 employees over the next three years. In other words, we’re looking at an addition of 86 new jobs a year. That’s not bad, but hardly a community-sustaining workforce boost.
When it comes to hot job creation tips, virtually every consultant’s report, stakeholder survey, and committee review seems to reach the same conclusion: the district needs to generate a more hospitable business environment to attract new employers who will provide good-paying jobs and lift what is becoming a disproportionally high municipal tax burden off the shoulders of homeowners.
There has been some progress in that regard. Our reorganized Development Services department promises a single point of contact for all permitting requirements. As well, two core strategies under the district’s economic work plan are geared towards increasing the supply of employment lands in the marketplace and creating a Squamish investment incentive program.
Recently, the district’s Economic Development Committee, comprised of community volunteers and three councillors, bandied about the concept of offering half-priced building permits and tax breaks for improvements, or renovations. Another suggestion was incentives for a downtown revitalization zone, including possible tax exemptions for commercial and residential infill development and reduced development cost charges. As much as that idea sounds good in theory, according to committee chair Patricia Heintzman, “there are many, many aspects to this type of initiative that have to be explored by council before a bylaw is even considered let alone adopted.”
Last month district staff and one member of council attended the B.C. Economic Summit at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel. According to a subsequent report in the district’s June economic development newsletter, “valuable connections” were made with program officials from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, Canadian manufacturers and exporters, Go2 and numerous community movers and shakers. As a follow-up, DOS summit attendees need to get more information out there about what action has been taken to capitalize on those contacts.
Let’s not forget, a short two years ago a Squamish delegation travelled to China on a high-profile business networking expedition. We’re still waiting to find out how that mission has improved the local employment landscape.