General News · 9th February 2015
I promised to you that my top priority for the next 4 years in elected office would be a focus on Cortes-appropriate economic development. My commitment is to work toward an economic plan, supported by core funding, and implemented by a committed local group. The Cortes Island Business & Tourism (CIBAT) group is the first step in turning our collective island focus to business and economic opportunity.
On January 24th, 40+ people gathered at an Economic Development Forum for a day of presentations and discussions. It was the first time, to my knowledge, that the Cortes community came together with the specific focus of exploring economic development options and I was very impressed with the caliber of the discussion. (The notes from that session are attached to this article as well as a letter that I wrote on this matter to the Strathcona Regional District board.) After having met with CIBAT and other community organizers, we are working toward a second forum in early April to look, in a participatory way, more specifically at next steps.
Many great ideas are taking shape through excellent group conversations and I anticipate that over the course of the spring these will find their way to maturity through good community discussions. Some of the questions being explored are:
How do we support collective Cortes innovation, branding and marketing?
How might we create a shared space where artisans, producers and educators can share tools, space and ideas?
How can non-profits collaborate to provide Cortes-wide strategic action planning and offer a form of big picture thinking and action?
How can wealth be generated and distributed and how can land be held in ways that best serve the community?
What organizational structures would best support the above?
The 2012 Cortes Official Community Plan has a great section on Economic Development that captures the values and aspirations of this community. I have also attached the full OCP here for your perusal and highlight below a few of the key points that seem particularly relevant.
Encourage the creation of a Cortes Economic Development initiative in order to consolidate and focus tourism, assist in start-ups, and develop value added opportunities;
Encourage access to a local economic development officer to further value-added initiatives and sustainable economic development opportunities;
To develop partnership opportunities with local private and public sector organizations, to achieve community improvements, external investment and joint marketing initiatives;
Develop a marketing co-operative for value added seafood processing, cultural tourism and other products;
Develop and promote a local light industrial area, including green, technological, sustainable industries and renewable energy opportunities;
The last full Canadian census was in 2006 and offers some sobering economic statistics about Cortes. Although the Cortes cash economy would bolster these figures, remember that these numbers reflect Cortes before the 2008 economic downturn which certainly hit Cortes.
pre-tax household income in 2005 of the 490 Cortes households
20% under $10,000,
20% between $10,000 & $20,000,
25% between $20,000 & $30,000,
30% of economic families were considered low income
54% of persons not in economic families were considered low income
So, what can be done to improve our economic situation? To truly flourish, any economic development initiative needs dedicated people and core funding to support its programs. Most local governments (municipalities and regional districts) have economic development services that support, in one form or another, an economic development officer and programs. We will be exploring organizational and funding models and a Regional District tax service is one well used option. I anticipate at some point this year conducting a feasibility study to investigate the formation of a Cortes specific economic development service. That being said, there are other local models that are being explored that would not involve the Regional District. This is a time to put all our best ideas forward and see what organizational and financing model would best fit our Cortes situation.
I am deeply grateful for the excellent work that many of you are putting in to learning about other models and weighing what options may best support economic diversity and resilience on Cortes Island.