For the past 6 years, the City’s approach to economic development seemed focussed on the mine. There was talk of economic diversification, usually about high-tech but little in the way of real and substantive work on diversification was undertaken.
Similar to the Performing Arts Centre, there was no Plan B. No strategy, no goals, no timelines for developing our economy and no apparent understanding of the impact this would have on our economy in the decades ahead.
High-tech does and should continue to play a significant role in developing our new economy but even there, it needs the City’s help. We need a sophisticated and well organized angel investor network that will keep successful innovators here. We need to train or attract more skilled employees that will allow tech firms to grow their business here. We need a university that is adapting and growing their science and technology curriculum to match industry needs. And we need to make sure that Venture Kamloops has programs in place to make these things happen.
We also need to start looking at light manufacturing with the capabilities to build some of the technologies our entrepreneurs are creating. This means more skilled electricians, engineers, designers, fabricators etc. have to be found or trained.
But as the name implies, diversification means looking at opportunities beyond just high-tech. Agriculture, adventure tourism, financial services, manufacturing, distribution and arts are just a few that would work well with our location. As a distribution hub, we have a proven network and capacity to export across the province or around the world.
My vision for Kamloops sees more than 100 new small to medium sized business starting or relocating here in the next 10 to 15 years. Each of those businesses hiring anywhere from 5 to 15 people. Not all of them in high-tech but instead a resilient blend of well established sustainable companies with a mix that allows us to absorb the ups and downs of normal economic cycles.
And there is a role for companies already here as well. I’d like to see established firms mentoring and coaching staff as well as entrepreneurs. Helping staff and new startups improves the chances for success and growth, while building the framework that will keep people here and gainfully employed.
Economic development is not a game of quick results but we have to start now and make up for the time already wasted. Had we seriously started this process 10 years ago, many of the economic development concerns we face today would have already been resolved.