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 appear to 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 highlights that there is not an overabundance of zoned and suitable land available to support that job growth that demographers tell us we will need over the next 20 years.
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 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 role 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 livable 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.
Partick Hrushowy is a forty-five year veteran of journalism and the communications field and he is the Editor of the Cowichan Post.