Regional district wrestles with economic development

Interactive map as displayed on TNRD investment website.

Interactive map as displayed on TNRD investment website.

Economic development — and the extent to which the regional district should be involved in it — has long been a topic of discussion by the TNRD board.

Over the years, the issue has ebbed and flowed. Back in the day, the TNRD had a formal partnership with the City of Kamloops in the operation of Venture Kamloops.

At that time, Venture Kamloops was responsible for stimulating economic growth in the entire regional district. It was an unworkable model, and I acknowledge that I initiated a “divorce” between the City and TNRD when I was in another role.

The problem was that a small staff had too many masters, as board members from throughout the district put on the pressure to do things for their individual areas. The result was that little got done for anybody.

Since that split more than a decade ago, the TNRD has pursued economic development for its electoral areas to a limited extent. Rural directors have small budgets they can use for promoting economic initiatives.

For example, I brought Area P into the North Thompson Tourism Association because our area has a significant number of accommodators and it makes sense to promote this area as a destination. It seems counter-productive, for example, to ignore the fact that many thousands of people drive through Area P to Sun Peaks every year, without alerting them to other nearby resorts.

As well, the TNRD has a committee called the Economic Development, Tourism and Regional Parks Committee, whose job it is to be alert to new opportunities in the region.

At a recent TNRD board meeting, the committee brought forward a recommendation that the regional district “not pursue economic development on a corporate level and that delivery continue to be carried out at the current level.”

And just last week, the board voted in a committee of the whole meeting to shut down the www.investthompsonnicolabc.ca website “and that economic development within the Thompson-Nicola Regional District be promoted instead through the use of the www.britishcolumbia.ca website.”

The rationale is that there simply haven’t been economic benefits of any significance from the local website.

That doesn’t mean economic development activity will stop or that the committee will disband, but it’s certainly up for discussion — the issue of delivery of an economic development function will be included in the board’s next strategic planning session.

The economic development committee’s recommendation, with which the board agreed, came after staff looked into what other regional districts are currently doing with respect to economic development.

They found that participation in economic development varies widely with electoral areas and municipalities, including the amount budgeted for it. And the cost to promote economic development is the rub — does the investment bring the hoped-for returns?

One interesting point is that the TNRD is the only regional district among those surveyed that described the film commission as an active economic development driver. As we know, the film industry is very important to our region, and well do I remember back in the late ‘90s when a consultant presented a report to the TNRD urging “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” in getting involve in film.

While the film industry has its ups and downs, overall it’s a significant contributor to the regional economy.

There’s more to a regional economy, of course, than movies and tourism. I believe the TNRD should keep investing in economic development in a targeted way, and I look forward to that strategic planning session.

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