Campbell River’s economic movers and shakers are not anticipating a “silver bullet” miracle as they prepare to welcome Jobs Minister Pat Bell.
Bell is arriving in Campbell River on Monday to convene a BC Jobs Plan regional economic investment pilot project forum.
There is a sense of cautious optimism tempered by a recognition that jobs don’t grow on trees.
In fact, before the forum has even taken place Mayor Walter Jakeway is planning a second forum to nurture “the passion” he believes is percolating deeper in the business community.
He believes economic progress is not just about identifying one major project, it’s about “oceans of opportunity”...a theme he has adopted to guide him in his new job.
The one-day event, co-hosted by Rivercorp, will include representatives from local government, business, industry, First Nations and education.
Government’s goal is the creation of an inventory of potential projects and an action plan detailing how “the provincial government will assist Campbell River in capitalizing on opportunities.”
Rivercorp CEO Vic Goodman says, “We want to see a concrete visible outcome. We will get a short list of projects that the people in the room agree are worthy of concentrated effort over the next 12 to 18 months.
“The projects will have as a goal job creation and the ability to be implemented within that period of time. They will provide significant regional benefits and be projects that the provincial government has a lever to help move along.”
Jakeway says, “There are 65 people attending (the forum)...to me this is the white collars, all the right people, all the big business leaders. I hope we get four or five really good ideas that we can research.
“But, I want to have another (forum) two weeks later. I want to have the blue collar and the no collar people at the next one. That’s the small business people. They are the people that have the cash and the passion.”
The mayor believes Campbell River needs to be developing and expanding its economic base on a number of fronts.
At a recent Rotary Club meeting he came away with a number of ideas for projects including: Expansion of the Middle Point Industrial Park, an autism treatment centre to serve all B.C., a penitentiary, an expansion of the city’s boat building capacity, a multi-level seniors care centre, expansion of North Island College, a biomass research facility, and the list goes on.
As it happens Goodman says, “I am really excited about the list of projects that comes out of the session that don’t make the (government) short list. It will help me get a real good window on the types of opportunities that are out there that people are talking about that we don’t get a chance to hear about.
“Some of these projects may be very attractive for us to pursue from an economic development stand point, but not necessarily be a particularly good fit to leverage through government.”
Forestry consultant Nigel Ross says, “It would be nice if there was a silver bullet that would attract and create investment in the community, but unfortunately there isn’t.
“There’s not an easy solution. It would be great if you could attract a multi-million dollar plant to town, but it just doesn’t work that way.”
Ross, who is chair of the city’s Future of Forestry Task Force, adds, “Various government agencies are coming to Campbell River trying to find out if there are projects, business plans, opportunities that are in place and shelf ready.
“They aren’t going to be providing any funding to get these projects or businesses off the ground, but they want to know what they are and (determine if) government can help streamline the process.”
When he announced the pilot project forum Bell said, “I have believed for some time that there is the potential for a high-speed second-growth sawmill somewhere on central or northern Vancouver Island.
“The second-growth timber resource that’s in the area is rapidly getting to a place where it is harvestable. I think it will be a very attractive place to build a new sawmill.”
Can the area support a new mill? Ross is cautiously optimistic.
“There has been some forestry investment that has come to Campbell River ... and that’s a sign that things are looking better.”
The mayor says: “It was great of the minister to mention a sawmill.” However, he cautions that most of the available district timber is already spoken for. “Western and TimberWest and all the small logging operations have got it all wrapped up. Perhaps the minister knows of a secret supply of timber?
“It’s a great idea and I’m glad he’s thinking that way. We are the forestry capital of BC. And, the logging companies are going flat out right now which is wonderful.”