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Nanaimo's new economic leader arrives

With its chief executive officer now at the helm and a board of directors ready to get to work, the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation is ready to market the Harbour City to the rest of the world.

With its chief executive officer now at the helm and a board of directors ready to get to work, the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation is ready to market the Harbour City to the rest of the world.

Susan Cudahy, who was selected in September as the organization's CEO, was introduced Monday morning by corporation co-chairs A.J. Hustins and Moira Jenkins.

Cudahy said her arrival does not mark a new beginning for the corporation, but serves as the culmination of more than a year of work by community stakeholders to put Nanaimo in a favourable position to attract investors, businesses and residents.

"That work has developed an economic development strategy and its action and implementation plan that has the ability to transition Nanaimo into a global destination of choice," said Cudahy. "The transition Nanaimo is in right now from my perspective ... holds limitless opportunities."

With recent investments into the mid-Island area that include $200 million from Western Forest Products and a potential lucrative contract for Nanaimo Shipyards that could create as many as 100 high-paying jobs, Cudahy said Nanaimo is poised for a positive future, and it's the role of the economic development office to ensure that happens.

"Since we're designed to operate independent from city hall, we'll be able to operate at NEDC at the speed of business, as opposed to working at the speed of politics," she said.

The corporation has 17 board members representing local business, tourism, and other economic sectors. Working with $1.3 million annually of taxpayer money, the NEDC will also be overseen by a 13-member progress board, which will include three members of Nanaimo city council.

Ralph Nilson, president of Vancouver Island University and a corporation director, said post-secondary education will play an important role in training people to fill newly created jobs.

"As a publicly funded institution, VIU will be key to the growth and evolution within this whole region so our responsibility is to make sure that we're being responsive and innovative and providing the kind of supports that are necessary," said Nilson.

Cudahy described the organization as a master sales team with Nanaimo as the product, and that to be successful in marketing Nanaimo, it must always be improving because competing communities are making their products stronger.

The board will focus on attracting new investment, ensure that current businesses have an opportunity to thrive, attract more tourists and increase the tax base.

"There is no community anywhere that does not want to attract investment," said Cudahy. "Every city, every town, every region, province and country are fighting for tax revenues and jobs. We're not competing with Victoria, or our neighbours in Vancouver or Kelowna. We're competing against organizations around the world. We're in competition with places like Ireland, Dubai and Indonesia."

Attracting tourism, she said, will continue to be a key element of NEDC's role.

"We don't have to go about developing a new destination because we already have what it takes. It is basically our turn in our growth to assume the position and begin believing in ourselves as the primary destination of choice."

Before accepting the role of CEO at NEDC, Cudahy was a senior manager at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Ottawa.

Prior to her work at FCM, Cudahy was president and CEO of the Greater Peterborough Area Economic Development Corporation as well as general manager of the Waterloo Regional Marketing Corporation. Her private sector experience includes senior management positions within the automotive alternative fuels market and the natural gas utility sector. She was also president of OZ Management Consulting, focusing on economic development, sustainability, venture capital investment and tourism marketing.

Currently operating out of city hall, one of NEDC's first objectives will be to find a permanent home for its offices.