If Squamish wants to become the next Silicon Valley, it needs to create a vibrant downtown, local business owners say.
On a technical basis Squamish is ready to go, Squamish Chamber of Commerce president Chris Pettingill told the District of Squamish's Economic Development Standing Committee on Tuesday (Nov. 20). Two fibre-optic communication wires run in and out of town and Internet connectivity is excellent in almost all areas, he said.
But the missing piece in drawing information technology (IT) companies up the Sea to Sky Highway is “vibrancy,” Pettingill said. After meeting with industry stakeholders, Squamish's lacklustre and quiet downtown serves as a disincentive, he said.
Squamish already has a busy IT community, but it's not visible, Pettingill added, noting that many local operations are run out of homes.
The municipality should head out into industry, grab a company, and say “this is the deal we have for you,” said Moe Freitag, Squamish-Lillooet Regional District Electoral Area D director. That's a page from the playbook of the Quebec city of Bromont. In an effort to attract IT investment, the community sold cheap land to stakeholders, Frietag said. Officials knew they were basically giving the land away, but we're confident that the businesses would in the end bring more to the community, he said.
“You get it all back anyway,” Frietag said, citing revenue from municipal property taxes. “You get it back in different forms.”
Squamish doesn't have a nightlife, or late-night transit, said Kerry Brown, the director of Inside Edge, a not-for-profit association of Sea to Sky Corridor knowledge-based industry workers. Turning those two factors around would aid in attracting IT companies, he said, noting that within the industry, employees tend to work late nights.
District council acknowledges Squamish's downtown is an area that needs focus, Mayor Rob Kirkham said. Council is currently pulling together its strategic plan, he noted.
“What we are looking at saying is that this is our project [downtown Squamish], that is what we need to transform,” Kirkham said.