The City of Nanaimo could once again create an economic development corporation.
Councillors, during a governance and priorities meeting on Aug. 26, endorsed recommendations from a consulting firm to implement a hybrid economic development model for the City of Nanaimo and create a committee focused on economic development.
If realized, the model would lead to the formation of an in-house economic development arm for the city as well as the Nanaimo Prosperity Agency, a city-owned arms-length development corporation. It would also result in the formation of the Nanaimo prosperity steering committee, which would be responsible for overseeing the creation of an economic development strategy for the city.
According to a recent staff report, the in-house economic development arm’s responsibilities would include creating a new economic development strategy, providing advice to businesses attempting to obtain city permits, and monitoring economic activities and trends within the community.
The Nanaimo Prosperity Agency, meanwhile, would be tasked with the implementation of an economic development strategy and stimulating business attraction efforts by developing a single Nanaimo brand. The agency would be governed by its own board of directors and have its own staff.
The recommendations were based on a report from Neilson Strategies, a consultant hired by the City of Nanaimo to examine options for the municipality’s economic development going forward. The report suggested the city’s lack of a current economic development strategy is a “serious gap” that must be addressed.
It also suggested that a new strategy would help “achieve a high degree of co-ordination” by determining priorities and responsibilities among various stakeholders.
Council’s decision comes nearly three years after the previous council agreed to dissolve the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, a non-profit city-owned corporation responsible for economic development and tourism.
During Monday’s meeting, Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog suggested council move quickly to develop a committee and strategy. He said although the economy is doing well at the moment, an economic development strategy should be in place before it slows down.
“The whole point of an economic development approach in my view is it is not to enhance the prosperity that we enjoy particularly, it is to prepare us and ensure us that when whenever [the economy dips] as they inevitably do, that we are in a better position than other communities to ensure that our citizens have a level of prosperity that might not have otherwise enjoyed during the bottom of that dip,” Krog said. “I don’t have any crystal balls but I’m hopeful that when that comes, that we will have been in a position to have that strategy there so that whatever investment dollars are out there will want to come here and those businesses that are here already and that we wish to enhance will, in fact, understand that there is a community and a city behind them.”
Coun. Tyler Brown said he was very supportive of the recommendation and that the outputs and measurables will be some of the most important things that he will be looking for in the economic development strategy.
“The most important output that I will be looking for … is to address some of the systemic poverty in our community,” he said. “I think that is an important metric of the success of any economic development function.”
Brown also pointed out that the acronym for the Nanaimo Prosperity Agency is the same as the Nanaimo Port Authority.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said he’s excited about the hybrid model, adding that he’s seen both in-house and external models and believes they can work but that a hybrid model is a more effective approach. He also said whatever decision councillors reach, it is important for them to have some oversight but also to let staff and committee members do their job.
“We have a duty of oversight and a responsibility to monitor, but we also have to have a large degree of trust and I see the steering committee being very important in putting together a strong and competent external agency and then stepping away,” Thorpe said.
Costs have yet to be determined and Jake Rudolph, the city’s chief administrative officer, told councillors there isn’t enough money in the budget this year to fund the initiative unless the money is pulled from surplus or other sources. Staff are expected to provide councillors with a business case and terms of reference for the prosperity committee within two weeks.