A new economic development project aiming to diversify the south island economy and create quality jobs with household sustaining incomes has begun operation in Greater Victoria.
The South Island Prosperity Project (SIPP) was launched in April and boasts a broad spectrum of community leaders, including 10 municipalities, five industry and business associations, three post-secondary institutions, seven private businesses, one local First Nation (Songhees), and two not-for-profit organizations.
“We’re looking at creating family sustaining jobs within the community…not just any jobs. (For example) we’re not looking to create a call centre in downtown Victoria, that’s not the kind of development we’re after,” said Emilie de Rosenroll, the project’s newly-appointed executive director. “We’re very much value driven and the jobs have to be sustainable.”
Bill Bergen, the newly-appointed board chair, agreed. His aim is to facilitate investment in regionally relevant businesses, adding it’s a question of working to get entrepreneurs to stay and build businesses relevant to the south island.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s agriculture, marine services, ship building, ocean sciences, or even services and innovations for aging populations. These are all markets that are very important to us but the key is to facilitate businesses that give us a local capability coupled with a global opportunity,” said Bergen.
Bergen added it’s important that 10 of the region’s 13 municipalities have signed on for a five-year commitment to the project, pointing out it’s very difficult for any municipality to compete for provincial or federal funds for economic development. He noted the City of Victoria has a population of about 75,000 and tends to be considered alongside other municipalities with similar populations when competing for those funds.
“The truth is we are actually a population of 350,000 and it doesn’t matter which of the municipalities experiences the development of a new business. We all benefit from that situation. The prosperity of one community benefits them all,” said Bergen.
Although some municipalities, including Langford, have not yet signed on to the new initiative, Bergen maintained the project’s focus isn’t on total inclusion of all municipalities. He said those municipalities who have declined membership will still benefit from the group’s efforts and, once they see the success of the project, may reconsider their position.
For the moment, the group’s focus is on engaging with private businesses in the member municipalities and opening a productive dialogue with other First Nations in the region.
De Rosenroll said the group will also be working with all its members to develop a five-year-plan for the execution of the group’s economic sector strategies.
“It’s important that we act as a catalyst for economic change and that our work with the local economy reflects the culture and values of the community,” she said.
Core funding for the new organization flows from all of the members of the project — funding that will enable the group to access federal programs such as the Western Economic Diversification Fund. Provincial funds will also be available, including the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C. In total, the project hopes to have a budget of $9 million by 2020.
De Rosenroll recently returned to her birthplace of Victoria after spending most of her professional life in Nova Scotia where she worked as the lead consultant to the province in their economic development initiatives. In 2013 she was recognized as one of Nova Scotia’s top 25 leaders under the age of 35.
Bergen arrived in Victoria less than three years ago after working 30 years as a leader and entrepreneur in the high-tech industry. Upon arriving in Victoria, he worked with a (business) incubator program at the University of Victoria where he was struck by the lack of investment in regionally relevant businesses.
“I think the fact that Emilie (de Rosenroll) and I are relatively new to the Island is a benefit. We’re not influenced by past efforts and their success or failure. We’re approaching this with a clean slate and are open to any ideas that lead fulfilling our project’s goals,” said Bergen.