This past week I have mulled over what I would offer to you in the realm of “food for thought,” to take us to a place that inspires the entrepreneurial voice to be heard in our beloved Okanagan.
“Disruption breeds change” is a suggested mantra for those of us who are growing weary of asking question after question about the environmental elements in our daily life that both confuse and test our intellect.
Living in West Kelowna and being quite pleased with myself for my wife and I choosing to live here after much deliberation and examination, I have found myself joyous on the one hand for our accreditation as a provincial new municipality.
But on the other hand, I also find myself concerned that local developers, leasing agents and property managers seem to be missing the boat to bring to our landscape a mix of logical, practical retailers that go beyond the “big box” syndrome that we find ourselves mired in and t9 focus more on desired and needed independent retailers such as home décor and comfort food restaurants to name a few.
West Kelowna readers, do you realize that video rental stores are gone, replaced by a cadre of dollar stores and seemingly half dozen or more drugstores? And I am not suggesting sainthood, but aren’t there an abundance of liquor outlets on Westside?
I can’t help but long for some creativity and innovative thinking from all the relevant development players that have a clear responsibility to contribute to West Kelowna’s economic development.
To add value and give us the foundation for a provincial model community, and not a cookie-cutter facsimile of what we shouldn’t be.
It was pointed out to me last week by a local concerned citizen that perhaps we might look at Chilliwack and its recent mall developments, such as Garrison village, that hinge on filling the gaps in community economic development with sensible independent retailers that both attract and fill a need in that community’s landscape. And we don’t want anymore fast food outlets that want us to believe their products are critical for a healthy lifestyle. Nonsense.
We are desirous of creating a showcase community here on the Westside, a community that we can be truly proud of, not only for the mix of residents from the world over, the beauty of our landscape and home developments, but also for intelligent well-thought and planned unique and creative retailers that are drawn to open their doors knowing their lease arrangement will not bury them in less than a single year of operation.
What I would like to see happen quickly, quietly and effectively would be to have a West Kelowna Community Economic Development Task Force put in place with a solid mix of relevant stakeholders that would explore such key elements as an economic development scorecard; district branding strategy; focus groups to assess consumer wants and needs in a variety of purchasing categories; and a series of economic development components that would lead us to the creation of a dynamic strategy and action plan.
I don’t buy into the theory that Westside residents must go to Kelowna to shop. Are we making an assumption that Kelowna retailers have everything we might need on their shelves? How silly is that?
We do need an economic strategy designed to showcase the strengths and attractiveness of the West Kelowna landscape, so that existing business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs can readily see the merit in innovation and creativity in their thought processes that will contribute to cementing our merchant critical mass as a viable, attractive and exciting recipe for the future.
In addition, we need to establish a “showcase” community with enough of a draw to bring in new residents and new entrepreneurs who want to share our special place.
So you may be asking yourself, why is Joel writing about community economic development issues in his entrepreneurship column? Easily answered in this fashion.
Driving daily into Kelowna for meetings, I pass the new mall underway beside the Westbank First Nation office along Highway 97. What did I see when the sign went up?
Dollar store, liquor store, drugstore…I told myself this is not the high end quality retailers I was led to believe would be housed within that structure to add value to our Westside economy.
So, I have felt prompted to stand on my soap box and ask for a “regrouping of thought” for the greater good.
I know of a comfort food restaurant that would like to explore a satellite location and specialty home décor and kitchen retailers that would investigate Westside.
But we are not hoisting the banner saying to the world: “We are open for business.” Come see our world. Let’s try shall we?
Joel Young is founder of the Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurs Society.