Local elected officials don’t seem to think economic development is as important to the Cowichan Valley as the public thinks it is.
The Cowichan Post emailed 35 elected officials in North Cowichan, Duncan, Ladysmith, Town of Lake Cowichan and the nine CVRD electoral area directors. Only two actually responded directly to the questions posed to these folks about the importance of economic development for the region.
On the other hand, we had a robust response of scores of respondents to a Survey Monkey survey on the same subject from the public. Without question local government faces serious challenges providing for growth in the region and ensuring that we have a sustainable and vibrant economy that can provide well-paying jobs for newcomers and for families that are establishing in Cowichan.
Local residents recognize that economic development and job creation are highly desirable and are in favour of supporting new businesses across a wide range of industries, including forestry and logging, manufacturing, health care, high tech and agriculture. These same people also believe that local government is making it hard for new businesses to get started.
The Urban Systems study just received by the Cowichan Valley Regional District is a step in the right direction. It highlighted that there is likely a critical scarcity of zoned and suitable land available to support the job growth that demographers tell us we will need over the next 20 years.
Making sure the industry we need, and the jobs, will be there is no easy task; it can be argued that local government may be a little late to the game of attracting growth in investment in new businesses. The public already believes local government makes it hard for businesses to establish in Cowichan. In terms of housing, developers complain that it there is too much uncertainty and time lost in getting zoning changes and permits to build.
Demographers suggest that the population in Cowichan will grow by almost 20,000 over the next 20 years and there will be a need for an additional 7,000 jobs. While local government wrestles with how best to attract new industry, elected officials will have to see to it that an affordable housing supply can increase with sufficient speed to avoid shortages that will inevitably drive prices up. There is a major constituency in the region that is not in favour of growth. To the extent those folks control local politics there will be a struggle creating a welcoming environment for new businesses and industries, as well as an operating environment that encourages developers to keep up with housing demand.
The Urban Systems studies provides local government with important, some say vital, data to plan from. In a rapidly changing world what should that plan be. Can anyone really forecast the industries that will experience sustained growth over the next 20 years? Will land use zoning typical today be of any use to people imagining new industries just five years out?
Would it be a better idea to invite ideas and proposals and then write suitable zoning for those ideas?
Maybe economic development can focus on creating a vibrant liveable environment that includes attractive lifestyles, education opportunities, access to transportation, high speed digital access, and most important of all, a welcoming local government structure that is willing to be creative and adaptive to a changing world.
The public expects you to do your job politicians !