Dan Dagg can’t help but feel disappointed when he looks at the declining numbers for gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the capital region.
In 2008, the region ranked fourth overall among Canada’s large metropolitan areas. Five years later, it slipped to almost last at 27.
In 2005, Halifax was ranked 15th and had an 11 per cent unemployment rate. Now, Dagg said Halifax is predicted to lead the nation in 2015 and unemployment has slid to 5.9 per cent thanks to a collaborative model rather than multiple municipalities working in a fragmented fashion, like Greater Victoria.
In an effort to turn Victoria’s lagging economy into a success story like Halifax and create more jobs, Dagg, board chair of the Greater Victoria Development Agency (GVDA), told Esquimalt council Monday night that the GVDA is closing down after eight years to be replaced with a new not-for-profit regional society funded by private and public participants.
He believes a collaborative approach is more attractive to businesses and investors, and would actually provide enough money to spur economic development.
“It (GVDA) has kept economic development alive for the last eight years, but it has been sorely underfunded. Eighty-thousand a year is nothing,” said Dagg, adding the new society (South Vancouver Island Economic Development Association) took some pieces from the Halifax model, but scanned the whole country as well, including Nanaimo, which started hitting hard on economic development two to three years ago.
In the Greater Victoria region, approximately 50 cents per person is designated for economic development, compared to more than $4 per person in Nanaimo and Vancouver.
“It was honestly getting embarrassing to see a small mid-Island municipality whooping our ass in terms of economic development activities...Sometimes we think because we live in paradise and in such a beautiful spot that we need to suffer and work at underpaid jobs and sacrifice things. But nobody said that has to happen. We deserve to prosper as much as any other city.”
Among the benefits of working together, said Dagg, is the ability to apply for larger government grants for regional projects, such as those addressing transportation, along with attracting and keeping industries that provide jobs for residents.
The new agency not only has representation from municipalities, but also industry, Royal Roads University, the University of Victoria and Camosun College — input supporters say is crucial to moving forward in a meaningful and sustainable way.
So far, all municipalities are on board to help with funding except for Metchosin. Council for North Saanich will vote Dec. 14 on whether to get involved.
All of Esquimalt’s councillors voted in favour.
“We, as a council, see the benefit of doing economic development from a regional approach and we also think it will be a significant adjunct to our economic development that we’re doing already,” said Mayor Barb Desjardins.
“The numbers (GDP) tell the tale. At the end of the day, if we can see that people’s income is coming up, that makes everything in this region more affordable.”
The initial funding model for the new agency has member municipalities contribute $1 per resident plus .07 per cent of property tax collected. The society has already secured more than $100,000 in start-up funding from the private sector alone.
The interim committee members and GVDA staff are working on a five-year economic development strategy with industry and education experts. Applications for federal and provincial funding will begin as early as January.
In the mean time, Dagg said the ultimate goal is to create more “household sustaining” jobs, meaning wages people can live off of.
“We’re not looking to create a bunch of minimum-wage coffee shop jobs, we’re looking to grow industries that require skilled workers, (businesses) that are clean and environmentally sensitive and pay good wages,” he said. “We want people to have careers.”