There are two power houses in the Cowichan Valley working to foster business development and job creation: Amy Melmock, Economic Development Cowichan (EDC) manager and Cathy Robertson, Community Futures Cowichan general manager. They come at it from different perspectives but ultimately, both recognize it’s about people and supporting the ambitions and aspirations of people who live here, and of people who are yet to come.
Melmock has just finished shepherding through a vital piece of research performed by Urban Systems for the Cowichan Valley Regional District. The EDC is a division of Land Use Services of the CVRD. The Urban Systems report delved deeply into future growth projections, housing needs, job creation requirements and the zoned land base in the region needed to support economic development and job creation.
Making use of the land base is key to the future, Melmock said in an interview. While the region comprises more than 260,000ha, there are only about 100ha of vacant and suitable industrial land.
“Future industry growth may not look like what industrial zoning looks like today,” Melmock said. “Local government will want to be flexible and will want to look at Official Community Plans to see what can be done today.”
Melmock illustrated this by pointing out that some of the industrial zoned land available, used to be sawmill or log sorting sites.”Maybe we would want something very new and different to take place on that land,” she said. “We are in a new paradigm and our zoning will have to accommodate that.”
“With the new hospital planned, there will be new opportunities for businesses and industries to site themselves close by,” she said. “Maybe new opportunities revolve around micro-developments. How do we accommodate that?”, she asked.
Both Melmock and Robertson are big on creating livable communities as a way of attracting sustainable job creation. “People are moving for lifestyle reasons,” Robertson said in an interview. “They find where they want to live and then figure out how to make a living.”
Robertson heads up the local branch of a federal agency that offers financing to promising businesses getting started. Robertson said these are often people who have succeeded in business elsewhere in a large metropolitan area and have moved someplace like the Cowichan Valley for lifestyle reasons – where they quickly establish a new business and begin employing people.
Both Melmock and Robertson agree that affordable housing options are necessary to attract new businesses and the trained and experienced employees they will require.
Also high on their lists are access to skilled labour, financing, connectivity and training resources. Robertson hopes to see resources to help businesses be good employers to ensure employee retention,which is an important aspect of a vital and sustained economy.