Gibsons’ 2013 economic development forum drew together 60 community leaders March 1 for an all-day exercise in collaborative thinking about job creation.
Opening the forum Friday morning at the Cedars Inn, Mayor Wayne Rowe announced the previous night’s Small Business BC win for best green business by Gibsons Recycling Depot, calling it “just an example of what’s in this community.”
Scanning the assembly of past and current CEOs, politicians, business leaders and community organizers, Rowe said he was “quite frankly intimidated” by the talent in the room. He called on participants to come up with ideas for “things we can actually achieve to make a difference,” adding that “no idea is too small to be ignored.”
Led by Peter Holt of the Vancouver firm PraxisPoint Consulting Group, the forum identified dozens of initiatives that could boost the greater Gibsons economy. Common themes included building on Gibsons’ marine services sector and branding the Town to attract “short-haul” tourists and home-based professionals seeking an affordable alternative to Vancouver.
Attracting more professionals would be in step with recent trends, said Dorothy Riddle, a member of Gibsons’ newly-formed economic development select committee and president and CEO of Service-Growth Consultants Inc.
In a brief presentation, Riddle said while resource-based production jobs in the area declined 38 per cent between 1986 and 2006, and jobs in tourism rose 60 per cent, business and professional services saw “very, very strong growth” at 331 per cent.
“The biggest sector in the Gibsons economy is business and professional services, followed by construction, retail, arts and culture, and tourism,” Riddle said. “Tourism is not the main driver of the economy. It represents just under six per cent of the economy and seven per cent of the jobs. By contrast, business and professional services are a strong driver, representing the largest portion of economic activity at 18 per cent, and the largest percentage of jobs at 14.4 per cent.”
Attracting IT and other mobile professionals ranked high on the list of favoured initiatives, with area resident Brad Benson asking why Gibsons wasn’t Silicon Valley North.
Participants also indicated strong support for promoting Gibsons as a car-free tourism destination — a move currently being pursued by the Gibsons and District Chamber of Commerce — and for Gibsons joining the marine highway to Alaska.
“Imagine a route that runs from all the ports on the west coast of North America to Alaska, a constant flow of recreational and commercial vessels going throughout the year,” said resident Russ Ayers-Berry. “We’re capturing very little of that traffic.”
Filling the Hillside Industrial Park, situated at Port Mellon in the Sunshine Coast Regional District, was given top priority by several participants, with marine storage and drydock among possible uses.
The award win by Gibsons Recycling Depot spurred calls for an international conference on waste management, with the eventual goal of establishing a resource recovery learning centre.
Gibsons would also be an ideal location for an oceanographic institute, a school of fine arts, an environmental learning centre and private boarding schools, participants said.
A prolific contributor of ideas, Peggy Wright of the Landing Business Group said a First Nation totem pole trail that started in Gibsons and extended to Lund could be a major attraction, while float homes, “full of character and colour,” could be marketed on the water and be used also as small businesses.
Wright also pitched a micro-brewery to take advantage of Gibsons’ world-famous water and suggested the town be branded as “the most walkable seaside village.”
School District No. 46 trustee Greg Russell suggested themed mini-retreats, while Chamber member Dean Walford said the Town had to ensure it was “open for business” when opportunity came knocking. Diana Robertson said she would like to see Gibsons marketed as the cultural capital of Canada.
Progress Plan coordinator and SD46 trustee Betty Baxter said there was an “appalling” lack of childcare for children between birth and five.
“There’s tremendous opportunities to enhance our economic development by getting childcare services in the Town of Gibsons,” Baxter said.
Transportation was also high on many lists, with participants calling for shuttle buses, commuter buses, and a trolley car or chairlift system between Upper and Lower Gibsons.
Still in the pre-application stage, the proposed George Hotel was not directly discussed, but realtor Jon McRae noted that “a quality hotel and convention centre should be on the list.”
A report summarizing the ideas from the forum will go to the Town’s select committee for further refinement, Rowe said in his closing remarks.
“Everything here is on the table,” he said. “We’re going to see what we can do to help the community move forward on some of these initiatives.”