Nanaimo councillors’ efforts to create an economic development corporation for the city took another step forward this week.
On Monday, councillors effectively agreed to create an economic development task force after they unanimously approved its proposed terms of reference during a regular council meeting.
The move is part of reviving an economic development corporation.
Nearly three years ago, the previous council decided to eliminate the city-owned non-profit Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, which was responsible for tourism and economic development. Its budget at the time, according to the city, was $1.375 million.
The current council has signalled a desire to bring back an economic development corporation for the city and recently endorsed a consultant’s report that recommended the city implement a hybrid economic development model and create an economic development task force. Under the hybrid model, if realized, an in-house economic development arm for the city would be created as well as a city-owned economic development corporation dubbed Nanaimo Prosperity Agency.
According to a staff report, the now-approved economic development task force will have 13 members who will meet monthly until fall 2020, when their mandate and work is expected to be completed.
Responsibilities, the report notes, include developing a request for a proposal for the city’s economic development strategy, evaluating and hiring a consulting firm to complete the economic strategy and recommending an operating model for the city-owned arm’s-length economic development corporation.
Membership on the task force will include two members from city council and one member each from Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo Port Authority, Nanaimo Airport, Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures Central Island. There would also be at least five business leaders from a range of sectors including transportation and warehousing, manufacturing, technology, film, healthcare, tourism, recycling, construction and agriculture, according to the report.
The report notes that $100,000 has been budgeted for the creation of an economic development strategy.
During Monday’s meeting, Dale Lindsay told councillors the expectation is that the task force creates an economic development strategy for the city and provides recommendations for the proposed prosperity agency.
However, Coun. Tyler Brown expressed concerns with the task force’s proposed membership, explaining that he felt there isn’t enough representation from those who aren’t as wealthy.
“I think this lacks perspective that I think is important in economic development and that is the perspective of those that may not have the luxury or the wealth…” he said. “Large systemic poverty that is historic in our community is not represented and I think that perspective is important in terms of economic development. So, with that said, I cannot support it without that perspective,” he said.
Coun. Don Bonner said he also had issues with the terms of reference, particularly around the phrase “business leaders.” He said non-profits and other groups should not be excluded from the task force.
“We are missing the not-for-profit and social service sector, which dwarfs many of these other sectors that are listed in there…” he said. “I think it is important that we have some representation from the social service and not-for-profit sector.”
Councillors voted unanimously in favour of having staff remove replace “business leaders” with “leaders” for membership eligibility requirements and include non-profit organizations on the list of sectors eligible.
Following council’s approval of the changes, Coun. Ian Thorpe said he is “very enthused” about an economic development committee and is supportive of the terms of reference with the new changes.
“I think this is an exciting next step to get our economic development in the city rebooted,” he said.
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