What can the city do to attract industry and employment to Campbell River?
That was the one of the question posed to candidates for city council on Monday night at Tidemark as the Mirror hosted the final all-candidates forum of the election season.
Colleen Evans says that while it’s important to bring new business to town, it can’t be at the expense of helping the ones that are already here grow and prosper. She also thinks that the sector that should be the most aggressively pursued is in technology now that we have a broadband system in place that will allow them to flourish here.
Ron Kerr says if the city wants to grow economically, it has to become a place where young people want to call home.
“We have a beautiful community here,” Kerr says, “but it isn’t always the type of community that the young force that’s out there – they’re trained and they can go wherever they want – we don’t necessarily have the amenities and the lifestyle (for them),” adding that City Hall also needs to learn to get out of the way of industry wanting to locate here, saying, “we frustrate business when they come to town.”
Marlene Wright highlighted the need for a trained workforce so that new businesses looking to come to town sees they’ll have an available pool of candidates for the jobs they’ll have on offer, praising the city’s relationship with North Island College, calling it “the hub for IT and trades” in the region.
Michele Babchuk says everyone needs to realize that “the days of a big Catalyst mill coming in and plunking it down on a big piece of land in Campbell River and employing 600 people are done. I think we’re going to be looking at those small and medium businesses that we need to bring in,” adding that while she agrees the tech sector should be part of the solution, “we also need diversification,” and, “as Colleen mentioned, we also need to support the businesses already in town … a lot of us are going online and heading to Amazon or eBay or wherever.”
Allan Buxton says business development opportunities are “a big part of my platform,” and he agrees that the tech sector needs to be the focus now that we have the broadband capabilities for these types of businesses.
“The key, now, is to get out there and engage these tech companies and letting them know that Campbell River is the place to locate your company because of lifestyle and amenities and getting out of the metros,” Buxton says, adding that he thinks revitalizing the downtown core will go a long way toward attracting these businesses.
Charlie Cornfield says the key to supporting local businesses, for him, “is to build on your strengths and diversity your base,” calling the resource sector – specifically forestry, mining and aquaculture – our strengths, and saying the city needs to keep supporting North Island College so it can continue to train workers in these sectors so students can stay close to home in their studies and go straight into jobs in their own communities.
Kermit Dahl says as a business owner, he knows the current struggle for employees all too well – especially young ones that can grow with the businesses they work for, and that comes down to amenities.
“There is a huge shortage,” he says. “We’ve had an ad running for three weeks looking for two employees and we’ve had two applications – they were both over 50 years old. We need the amenities that young people want when they graduate so that when they look around and go to start their life, the things they want are here.
“We need things like the mountain biking park so that the young generation, when they are working from home and they close their laptop at 3 p.m. and want to go do something, they don’t have to drive to Cumberland to go do it. That’s what’s going to attract and retain our young people.”