Economic corporation takes first step to independence

The unofficial launch of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation was marked last week with the resignation of Mayor John Ruttan as chairman, but the new organization mandated with improving the city's business and tourism sectors will still be tethered to city hall.

Ruttan, who served as chairman of the Nanaimo Economic Development Commission since March 2010, said his departure, along with Couns. Merv Unger and Fred Pattje, was the next natural step in creating the arm's-length organization, which will eventually ease tax burdens on residents by generating its own income to market Nanaimo.

Over the past few years, the former economic development branch of the city cost taxpayers $1.5 million annually, and, shortly after being elected, Ruttan said he wasn't satisfied with the amount of reports he was receiving advising him of economic progress.

"The intent was always that once we got the corporation up and running, that it would operate somewhat autonomously from the city," said Ruttan. "Not entirely, of course, since it is, for now, taxpayers' money. But we never intended, nor was it our desire, to control it indefinitely."

The majority of the 17-member board for the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, which has received the province's blessing, has been established with mostly local members and four at-large members of the community.

A.J. Hustins, general manager for ABC Precast and Ready Mix Ltd., and Moira Jenkins, vice-president of commercial financial services at the Royal Bank, will sit as interim co-chairs until the board selects a permanent chairman. Other members include a cross section of business, tourism, port authority, Snuneymuxw First Nation and Nanaimo Airport representatives.

"It is ever important to create a community of social and economic opportunity, that is an attractive place to live, and respects and preserves the environment," said Jenkins in a press release.

Under the bylaw approved earlier this month, board directors for the corporation will be volunteers.

Ruttan, Unger and Pattje will sit on a 14-member progress board that will monitor the economic development corporation's actions.

"Our focus will ensure the money is spent in the most effective way, that's a given," said Ruttan.

Once established, the corporation could take on a regional flavour with other nearby municipalities and regional districts paying around $100,000 for a place at the table to discuss regional economic development strategies. Other sources of revenue, such as a hotel room levy, have also been discussed to help fund initiatives.

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