Economic development 2.0: Will it work?
At first blush, the city’s new economic development committee is more bureaucratic than business-like.
That’s because our initial reaction is to compare it to the former Initiatives Prince George (IPG) board, which was dominated by representatives of large businesses.
But let’s face it, IPG was dismantled and the board dissolved because it wasn’t delivering the results that the city wanted. So, after pulling the plug on IPG, why would Mayor Lyn Hall replace it with the same-old, same-old.
The new committee is interesting, and eclectic. It, definitely, takes a different view. If the old reasoning was that business needed to drive economic development, the new view is that local institutions and organizations need to drive it.
There are some plusses and minuses.
It’s good to see both Regional District of Fraser Fort George chief administrative officer and Lheidli Tenneh Community Economic Development manager Zishan Shah on the committee. Economic development that benefits the city isn’t limited to city boundaries. Along those lines, Susan Stearns from Community Futures is another good choice. Why would you not have an organization whose sole function is to foster economic development on your economic development committee? Northern Development Initiative Trust is another such group and CEO Janine North would have been another good choice, but is not on the committee.
One of Hall’s campaign promises was to involve our educational institutions in city governance. By putting UNBC president Daniel Weeks and CNC president Henry Reiser on the committee, Hall is following through with that promise.
For those who think that CUPE bought the last election, the addition of former provincial NDP candidate and labour lawyer Bobby Deepak and Don Iwaskow, vice-president of the North Cariboo Labour Council and Steelworkers financial agent will drive that message home. However, labour should have a seat at the economic development table.
For those think labour will dominate, there is also a good mix of business organizations: Christie Ray of the Chamber of Commerce, former city manager and now Downtown Business Improvement Association executive director Colleen Van Mook, another former city manager and now CEO Prince George and BC North Construction Association Scott Bone, and former city communications manager and now Independent Contractors and Businesses Association representative Mike Davis.
Addition of the last group is interesting. It’s new to Prince George, but provincially it’s very active. If we were in the U.S., the ICBA might be considered a SuperPAC. It is very well-funded and very vocal in its support of the provincial Liberals and criticism of the NDP.
As mentioned, it’s an eclectic group. The meetings will likely be interesting.
The size of the committee, at 17 members, will likely be unwieldy. It could easily have been a little smaller: Does it need to have the labour council and a labour lawyer? One labour representative would probably work. Does it really need UNBC and CNC on the board? One education sector representative would likely suffice. Does it really need four business organizations? One, maybe two, would work.
However, the bottom line is whether this committee, and by osmosis, the city’s new economic development function, is effective. One of the things the community clamoured for from IPG was some sort of measurable results. This new machination of economic development must be held to the same standard.
Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org