Nanaimo councillors want to re-evaluate the city’s economic development model, but won’t be able to do that in time for this year’s budget.
City councillors went over a number of line items in their budget deliberations at finance and audit committee meetings the last two weeks, and came to a consensus that economic development would remain as-is in the 2019 budget.
The last city council decided to dissolve the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation and replace it with an in-house economic development arm, which has been in place since spring of 2017.
“I think we should leave things status quo for this year and let our staff and everybody work together with the business communities to find out exactly which way they want to go, and then look at funding this position in the 2020 cycle,” said Coun. Sheryl Armstrong at the Dec. 5 special finance meeting. “Because there might be a recommendation that they want two or three individuals [working in the department]. So I think we’d be best, in my opinion, waiting until we have that engagement.”
Finance committee members wanted to ensure there was budget room for public consultation around economic development. Coun. Don Bonner expressed a wish to have new economic development delivery in place by the summer, but suggested budget decisions could wait.
Coun. Tyler Brown said there are lots of moving parts on the file, with motions on the books at the Regional District of Nanaimo.
“I know there’s been a lot of chatter of, is it a regional function, is it a local function, and how does that play out?” he said. “So I think there’s a lot of legwork and conversations that need to happen before we will be even in a position to say what is the model moving forward and where and how is it funded.”
Coun. Erin Hemmens agreed that economic development was a budget item that could possibly be held over for a year.
“We have organizations like [the Mid Island Business Initiative] doing this great work and I’d like to see kind of a thorough consultation process to make sure that when we do do something around economic development, that we do it well and it fits with the community and it fits with our vision,” she said.
MIBI, funded by businesses and organizations in the region, has been supporting economic development between Ladysmith and Qualicum Beach since February 2017. John Hankins, CEO of MIBI, said at the city’s most recent committee of the whole meeting that the region has opportunity to leverage off of the work being done in Vancouver and Victoria.
“In order to attract companies, if you look at the best cities in the world and what they’ve done, they talk about actually having a visionary mayor and council, which I believe we have, creating a vibrant downtown centre and then having welcoming arms when anybody comes here,” Hankins said.
Bonner said he would like Nanaimo to expand its tech sector and Hankins agreed, adding that the green technology industry is another great opportunity.
“But I think it’s about having that shared, common vision that the community can own and then we can move towards it,” Hankins said.
MIBI wasn’t coming to the city asking for money and Hankins said Mayor Leonard Krog has been championing a funding request to the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology.
The city’s finance and audit committee, at its meetings last week, voted on various budget drivers to move along the preliminary 2019-2023 financial plan. An e-town hall meeting is scheduled for tonight, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m. at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, and three readings of the preliminary budget are expected on Dec. 17.