Economic Development – More than just high-tech

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.  studentsWe 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 boardroommentoring 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.

Kamloops – A Vibrant 21st Century Economy

People talk about diversifying our economy but when pushed for answers, most can only  grin weakly and manage the tired old answer…High-Tech.  But there is so much more than just high-tech and so much we can do to turn the decades ahead into best times of our lives.

There’s integration with light manufacturing.  Skill upgrades to match the changing economy.  Agriculture that includes manufacturing, farm-gate sales and tourism.  Aggressive marketing strategies targeted towards attracting new and existing businesses and people with needed skills. Using science to create new innovative products.  The list goes on and here are just a few ideas to get you thinking about what Kamloops can do to become active, alive, involved and booming in the 21st century.

We can begin a scheduled series of Discover Kamloops weekends where entrepreneurs, existing small businesses and skilled professionals from the Coast are invited up under a hosted program to experience Kamloops first hand. Key to our presentation for moving their business here would be affordability (you can buy a house here for the price of a studio suite condo in Vancouver), we’re family friendly, our amazing outdoors lifestyle, serious IT infrastructure, transportation hub, proximity to major markets and room to grow and expand.

We can also start packaging the benefits of integrating innovative ideas and technology with light manufacturing. If you’ve invented or improved on a product or technology then why not build it here as well?  Producing your product here takes advantage of our well-established and proven transportation and distribution infrastructure. And we can even offer independent 3rd party testing and product validation right here at TRU.

Or how about we get back to our roots…so to speak…and look at new opportunities in agriculture. Small-scale hop farms built on the model of wine country but with farm-gate microbreweries offering tours, craft beer tasting rooms, restaurants and on site sales. This is product manufacturing 21st century style and a perfect add on for tourism as well.

Go the science route and establish new specialties or niche markets. Become the specialists in developing yeasts for brewing. Develop new techniques for reforestation…get geeky and start a new business

Pick a technology specialty like green energy or communications and establish a centre of excellence that will attract other innovators, create market awareness and build new companies.

Start a new computer science degree program that specializes in gaming and simulation and bring in industry leaders with branch offices here in Kamloops that will hire our new graduates.

Teach new skills that will allow you to telecommute instead of being forced to leave Kamloops.

Add new trade diploma programs in electronics and manufacturing so that we have the people to build what we invent.

This is my kind of Kamloops. A Kamloops that is not bound to the old ways simply because, “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. It’s about looking at the new global realities, recognizing new opportunities and providing the kind of leadership that has been missing and is so badly needed.

As Mayor I would want to insure that in the future we are never again forced to choose between 200+ jobs and the health of 90,000 residents. A robust, diversified economy, with well paying jobs is step one in creating that healthy, safe community of the near future.

Help me return leadership and positive change to City Hall. Vote September 30th for Bill McQuarrie as Mayor of Kamloops.

McQUARRIE – High-tech, resource industries, tourism can coexist

This is the post excerpt.

 

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.