City council dissolves Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation

NANAIMO – Mayor Bill McKay announces a city council decision to "wind down" operations by Jan. 31.

Nanaimo city council will pull economic development in house and “wind down” operations of its arms-length corporation next month, Nanaimo mayor Bill McKay announced this week.

The five-year-old Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation will close its doors at the end of January, replaced with a city economic development office and new commission led by McKay.

The decision was made in an 8-1 vote during an in-camera meeting Dec. 15 and publicly announced by McKay on Monday.

Council finds itself at a “crossroads” in delivering on community values in its strategic plan by means of the corporation, according to McKay, who said of concern is the current standing of the board, which is low on membership and that the chief executive officer position is vacant for the fourth time in five years.

Earlier this year council pulled tourism from the purview of the corporation and proposed a new partnering agreement. John Hankins, the corporation’s third chief executive officer, was fired by his board a day after going public with questions and concerns about the city’s decision on tourism and nine of 16 board members resigned in October. Only two people have formally expressed interest in being on the board since the city opened nominations in November to fill the seats, according to the City of Nanaimo.

“Efforts to replace the board’s membership have thus far generated only minor interest where the work to replace the CEO may take up to four months,” McKay said at the meeting, adding because of those circumstances, the need to pass the 2017-21 budget and to “expediently deliver” on economic values in the strategic plan, council has decided to wind down the corporation by Jan. 31 and replace it with the commission.

Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation was created in 2011 and spearheaded by former mayor John Ruttan. In a previous interview, Ruttan said economic development was handled in house where the department was too insulated and there was difficulty in getting information with staff. He wanted more public input and to lessen the burden on taxpayers. The corporation was set up to handle economic development and tourism, and the city reports its budget had been $1.375 million.

McKay said the new commission will be a “hybrid model because we’ve been down both paths.” In this model, he said a commission will guide the activities of city staff involved in the economic development office and give them the direction they need.

Prince George made its announcement it would pull economic development in house last year, according to an article from the Prince George Citizen, and McKay said the model gives that city more information, more contact and works “very, very well for them.”

The mayor will lead the commission, which has seen interest from four of six remaining NEDC board members and will include representatives from sectors such as business, regional government, post-secondary education and business development.

Two economic development positions will transfer to the City of Nanaimo to be administration support for the new commission and a manager position will be created in 2017.

McKay is excited to be chairman and doesn’t see council conflict, like the agreement of council to launch legal action against him, as interfering in his ability to lead economic development. He calls this the start of a new day.

“I am hoping that it’s part of a putting a new face forward. It’s part of taking steps forward and I am very pleased and somewhat flattered to be given the opportunity,” he said.

A provisional budget, one vote away from adoption, also includes $984,000 —down from $1.375 million — for economic development next year pending finalization of a service delivery model. City administration will prepare a report for council in January recommending a process to formalize the commission’s make-up and terms of reference.

Erralyn Thomas, named chairwoman of the NEDC board earlier this year, was not available for comment.

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