When you think about community economic development what comes to mind? A good-paying job? A vibrant downtown core? Thriving social enterprise? An opportunity to grow your business, employ more people and increase revenue? Unlike other municipal services, community economic development (CED) is perhaps the least understood or appreciated function of a local government because it’s not simply about economic growth. It’s foundational to a resilient, healthy and yes, prosperous, community.
When I think of CED, I try to understand how a community’s economic potency can achieve all those expectations above but also help end homelessness, protect habitat and clean air, improve our transit/transportation networks, provide learning opportunities for youth and maximize our human capital, help us to afford our aging and expanding infrastructure, meet the expectations of an increasingly cosmopolitan population while supporting the needs of our aging citizens.
Platitudes? Perhaps. So what can we do to take community economic development beyond abstraction? Here are a few possibilities:
Council is currently contemplating a revitalization zone in the downtown area and the North Yards employment lands with the goal of stimulating strategic investment. This could be a multi-faceted incentive program implemented over several years with specific investment goals. At the core of this program tax exemption that could extend to new buildings, job density, façade improvements and green retrofits. Stay tuned on how this unfolds.
The second possibility would be to end chronic homelessness. Sounds lofty but it’s achievable. Although council has never fully contemplated this opportunity, the investment in a 10-year action plan to end homelessness makes economic sense. Many other cities and provinces have initiated these types of strategies because the solutions are far cheaper than the status quo. And it’s the right thing to do.
We all feel a degree of empathy for our homeless citizens, and the proactive food and shelter solutions that Helping Hands espouses are laudable and so worthy of our support. But society’s “shelter” approach to homelessness is tragically erroneous… and costly. It costs the B.C. government 33 per cent more to provide health care, criminal justice and social services to a homeless person than to a socially housed unemployed individual, including the full cost of housing. Let’s take a proactive “Housing First” approach to ending homelessness.
These are just two possibilities to consider locally. Council is well on its way to conceptualizing and acting on the strategic investment incentive program. And I’m hoping the province will take a greater leadership role in tackling the issue of homelessness and that council will help resource a strategy to end it here in Squamish. I see both of these initiatives as community economic development. Perhaps I’m idealistic but in my mind, there is no denying the inextricable connection between prosperity, people and the planet.