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New ‘arm’s-length’ corporation eyed for economic development

Amidst grumblings of putting the cart before the horse, the Nanaimo Economic Development Commission took the next step this week in creating a model to promote the city and attract new business.

The commission voted 10-1 Tuesday to approve staff recommendations that city council establish an Economic Development Corporation and progress board to assist council in ensuring the corporation is fully accountable to taxpayers.

If approved by council, commission members would be appointed as the corporation's interim board of directors.

The recommendations are based on a Prince George economic development model and lists key components, including financial commitment, contact with stakeholders, support of council, support of community, partnerships and a regional approach.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said an important aspect is creating a corporation that is at arm’s length to the city, though for the immediate future the city would be the primary stakeholder because it would provide the majority of funding.

Costs under the proposed model will increase to $1.497 million from $1.357 million and include $760,000 for payroll, $250,000 for marketing and communications, and $230,000 for tourism development.

Until issues relating to new revenue opportunities and partnerships are addressed, cuts to the proposed budget would be required.

“What we’re trying to do is work with entities outside the city and have the corporation become more regional in nature,” said Ruttan. “I would like to see the model have a whole lot less political influence, but right now we have to be accountable to the taxpayers.”

Jolynn Green, Tourism Nanaimo's representative on the commission, was the lone vote against the recommendations, saying she doesn’t understand the sense of urgency to accept the report.

“It’s one case study of the model in Prince George. I would like to have seen many different models and take the best from all of them,” she said. “We should have tabled this report, taken it to our organizations and got feedback.”

Green also questioned how she could vote yes to the report without her organization's members having seen it.

Commission member Rob Grey expressed concern about remaining arm’s length from the city.

“What if the city decides to cut the funding to the model? What’s to stop us from going down the same path as the economic development office or the [Nanaimo] film board,” he said. “Are we going to repeat the same mistakes?”

Ruttan said the report is a work in progress.

“It certainly may not be perfect, but we have to start somewhere,” he said. “Nothing is cast in stone.”

The No. 1 priority for the corporation would be to hire an economic development officer, a position that was eliminated last year.

“I see the EDO role as a more senior position with the city than its former role,” said Ruttan. “It will certainly be a tough job, and I see the candidate eventually taking over the operation.

The recommendations go to city council Monday (March 14) for final approval.

 

 

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