This question was posed within the opening remarks at last weekend's Gibsons and Area Economic Development Conference by Dr. David Bond, former chief economist for the Hong Kong Bank of Canada, in his keynote address to more than 90 delegates at the conference. It weighed heavily on all throughout the day.
Dr. Bond delivered a sometimes disturbing but succinct message of hope for our area. Economic development for the lower Sunshine Coast was the subject of his presentation and the workshops that followed during the day.
I was personally encouraged by the large turnout of delegates on such a beautiful Saturday. The crowd represented business owners and managers, civic leaders and ordinary citizens of Gibsons and Areas E and F.
Dr. Bond laid out six significant facts about economic development:There is only one source of funding - us, the taxpayers.Forestry is going through a time of significant adjustment.Transportation challenges insure that significant industrial expansion will never happen.
Youth will always leave. Accept it and rise to the challenge of bringing them back when they are ready.
Significant capital investment will not happen due to the lack of easy access.
Location, with our proximity to a major population base, is our strength.
"The Sunshine Coast provides a retreat to something altogether different providing a wonderful contrast to life in the big city," was purported by Dr. Bond to be our area's unique selling proposition within our prime opportunity for economic development - tourism. Clearly the delegates agreed that tourism presents the most obvious and agreeable form of economic growth. Our location in close proximity to the Lower Mainland's large population, stunning surroundings, strong artisan community and laid-back lifestyle are the cornerstone assets which we need to market.
Our community needs to rally behind the opportunity to continue to develop the tourism market by clearly identifying the demographic of our potential visitors and target these groups with a clear message of what we have to offer. When they come, we need to serve them experiences and memories that will insure repeat visits and positive word of mouth referrals.
While many other opportunities for economic development were discussed during the conference, the challenge, as always, will be in taking the ideas through to implementation. Let's not let the energy wane due to the enormity of the challenges. Rather, let's get on with building our own future the way we want it, collectively. As Dr. Bond asked, "If we don't do it, who will?"
For now I congratulate those who organized the conference and especially those who took the time to participate.