KAMLOOPS — I’m a curious kind of guy and have noticed that whenever we talk about diversifying our local economy, the conversation quickly goes off track as people respond with something along the lines of, “True, but we can’t live on tourism jobs alone.”
My curiosity makes me wonder why. Why do we always fall back on that as being the only possible outcome of a diversified economy?
Tourism is and will continue to be an important part of the economic mix for this City. The keyword is mix but that is ignored when someone inevitably whines about how we can’t survive on tourists and/or minimum wage jobs alone.
Everyone nods their head in agreement, murmurs a few platitudes and reminisces about the good old days. Often, if the energy level is high, a committee is struck, a community task force that will lobby government for more access to…whatever the resource du jour is at that moment in time.
It’s a given that this conversation will go nowhere. A delegation will eventually fly over to Victoria, where they will listen to supportive MLA’s and Ministers agree with everything being said. The committee will fly home that evening with promises that Deputy Ministers and industry specialists will get to work on it. They never do until a couple of years later when a brand new committee arrives in town and the cycle renews itself.
It could be said that Ajax is in many respects the unplanned child of this lacklustre approach to economic diversification. Over a decade of following this unimaginative ‘slow and steady’ promise has left us with little more than a deeply divided City with little or no alternatives.
As sure as we know a 100% tourism based economy is a fallacy, so too is a 100% resource based economy. Yet this uninspired and unproductive approach to economic diversification has made us easy pickings, a town to be exploited by people who will never live here.
We pay lip service to diversification but do little that is substantive. In fact, like many of you, I’ve been wondering how different the Ajax story would be if we had been doing more than just studies on average wages and reports on development land availability.
Over these same years, Kamloops could have been moving into the high paying knowledge based economy but chose instead to do nothing. In its place our political leaders entered into a multi-year discussion with a Polish based mining company that may result in an open pit mine being created beside our City.
In the process they have divided the community like no other administration has been capable of doing.
Instead of fracturing our community, why weren’t we developing new opportunities and relationships with non-destructive industries in the high-tech and alternative energy industries?
Diversifying our economy doesn’t mean ignoring the resource sector. Instead it could mean developing symbiotic relationships with existing resource industries. It could even be something as straightforward as transferring waste heat from data centres to pulp mills needing that energy to manufacture paper. Make it a loop by returning cold water to the data centre and you are suddenly reducing a carbon footprint through recycled energy.
Take a moment to consider the possibilities of having and growing industries and high paying jobs that do not need or exploit the one time use of a natural resource. They are more resistant to and independent of world commodity prices. They create as opposed to destroy. They add value and export a finished product as opposed to shipping out raw materials. They are often complementary to established industry. They create a legacy that grows a community beyond just two decades.
Drive through dozens of once thriving resource extraction towns in BC, Washington and Oregon and you will see how the future will treat us if we do nothing but follow our current path.