Nanaimo to determine its own economic future

Jobs minister Pat Bell said he believes Nanaimo's strengths include international education, forestry and tourism, but before the province can assist Nanaimo in any sector, the city itself has to decide which direction to take.

Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell says Nanaimo won’t be left behind in the provincial Liberals’ recently announced Jobs Plan despite its focus on mining and natural gas, two sectors that likely won’t pay big dividends for Nanaimo in the future.

While Premier Christy Clark’s B.C. Job Plan focuses on creating employment in mining and taking advantage of emerging Asian markets, Bell said he believes Nanaimo’s strengths include international education, forestry and tourism, but before the province can assist Nanaimo in any sector, the city itself has to decide which direction to take.

“The province wants to help Nanaimo achieve its directives and goals,” said Bell. “We’re very pleased Nanaimo is embarking on its new Economic Development Corporation and one of the things we need to do is as soon as the community is ready is to sit down and figure out how the province plugs in and supports Nanaimo’s objectives.”

Though the national unemployment rate fell to 7.1 per cent last month, Nanaimo has remained in double digits since April, peaking at 16 per cent before falling to its current rate just below 12 per cent.

Of the 61,000 jobs created nationwide last month, B.C. created an estimated 32,000 of them.

“Our exports are up 14 per cent over last year, which was already up 15 per cent. A lot of people may find it hard to believe but we’re making significant progress,” Bell told the News Bulletin Monday.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said there are options to pursue, but the EDC is waiting for its inaugural CEO  Susan Cudahy to take the helm — she is expected to arrive from Ontario next week — before mapping out Nanaimo’s economic future.

“Every city would be thrilled with a technology sector but the reality is is that we may need to find something different,” said Ruttan, who has been working closely with Bell’s ministry. “We want to find some niche markets. For example, there are lots of new wood fibre products being developed. We’re ready, we’ve got the infrastructure, Vancouver Island University will be able to provide training and what we’re trying to do is find something innovative, that is new and will create new positions.”

Aquaculture, an industry both the city and VIU recognize as a possibility with large economic benefits, is another option, said Ruttan.

Bell echoed the sentiment that VIU is an excellent resource and points to similar knowledge-based economic success in Kamloops and its partnership with Thompson Rivers University. He also pointed out that Prince George’s economic development corporation, established several years ago, has helped keep that city’s unemployment rate at around six per cent.

“When I think about Nanaimo the immediate opportunity that comes to mind for me  is international education at Vancouver Island Univeristy,” said Bell. ” It’s an enormous opportunity and it’s already paying dividends in communities like Kamloops. I think we can do the same thing in Nanaimo.”

Bell also said the province is expanding international offices in growing markets like Japan, India, China and Korea, and once the city determines a direction it wants to take, those provincial resources will become available.

“If those areas are of interest to Nanaimo then we would assist in facilitating the recruitment of international students and make sure that process is organized. Nanaimo would have access to all of the province’s facilities,” said Bell.

Ruttan said he is optimistic about Nanaimo’s economic future and the possible sectors that can be pursued, but added job creation is new to municipalities and will take some time to develop.

“Job creation has traditionally been the responsibility of provincial and federal governments,” he said. “We aren’t in much of a financial position as a city to generate much in the way of funding for these programs. All we have to work with is development cost charges and property taxes but we’re looking forward to working with the provincial government while defining our own economic future.”

“Every city would be thrilled with a technology sector, but the reality is that we may need to find something different,” said Ruttan, who has been working closely with Bell’s ministry. “We want to find some niche markets. For example, there are lots of new wood fibre products being developed. We’re ready, we’ve got the infrastructure, Vancouver Island University will be able to provide training and what we’re trying to do is find something innovative, that is new and will create new positions.”

Aquaculture, an industry both the city and VIU recognize as a possibility with large economic benefits, is another option, said Ruttan.

Bell echoed the sentiment that VIU is an excellent resource and points to similar knowledge-based economic success in Kamloops and its partnership with Thompson Rivers University.

“When I think about Nanaimo, the immediate opportunity that comes to mind for me is international education at Vancouver Island University,” he said.

Bell also said the province is expanding international offices in growing markets like Japan, India, China and Korea, and once the city determines a direction it wants to take, those provincial resources will become available.

“If those areas are of interest to Nanaimo then we would assist in facilitating the recruitment of international students and make sure that process is organized. Nanaimo would have access to all of the province’s facilities,” said Bell.

Ruttan said he is optimistic about Nanaimo’s economic future and the possible sectors that can be pursued, but added job creation is new to municipalities and will take some time to develop.

“Job creation has traditionally been the responsibility of provincial and federal governments,” he said. “We aren’t in much of a financial position as a city to generate much in the way of funding for these programs.

“All we have to work with is development cost charges and property taxes but we’re looking forward to working with the provincial government while defining our own economic future.”