Chamber contracted by RDN to handle Area B tourism and economic development for three years

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, September 26 2017

“Everything from before was the property of the City of Nanaimo - we had to start fresh.”

That was Gloria Hatfield, President of the Gabriola Chamber of Commerce, speaking to the Regional District of Nanaimo Board.

She was asking them to approve a ten-year contract which would see the Gabriola Chamber handle tourism and economic development planning for Electoral Area B using tax funds previously assigned to the Nanaimo Economic Development Commission (NEDC).

The RDN Board has approved her request, but for a three-year period, with the Chamber receiving $29,925 for economic development services for the 2017 fiscal period ending March 31, 2018, and then $65,000 per year for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

For the taxpayers of Gabriola, there will be no increase to taxes, as these were funds already being budgeted and spent on the now dissolved NEDC.

As Hatfield explained, the Chamber stepped in when the NEDC dissolved in late 2016, to ensure there was still someone working on tourism for Gabriola.

That came with a $1,000 per month for six months funding from the RDN. The Chamber was also provided with a $10,000 RDN grant to develop an economic development strategic plan for Area B.

As quoted above, since everything the NEDC had used to promote Gabriola prior to 2016 belonged to the City of Nanaimo, the Chamber had to build everything, from photos and videos, to a basic operating structure, from the ground up.

Strategic planning sessions with “foundational” members of the Gabriola community (business, arts, health, seniors, families, et cetera) were held in the springtime, leveraging the RDN funds partner with the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) and Community Futures.

The planning also involved using the information gained from the Chamber’s own economic studies over the past five years.

The Economic Readiness Report showed there are over 600 businesses operating on Gabriola, many of them being run from residents’ homes.

Hatfield acknowledged there will need to be a balancing in making sure the new Economic Development function is working for the entire business community of Area B, not just the 100+ Chamber members.

“This group represents the entire community and needs to represent the non-Chamber members as well.”

She said there will be an advocacy function, as a lot of the strategic sessions saw people speaking to the need for more housing on Gabriola so people can actually live here to work here.

“Our recommendation is not that we lead this, but advocate behind whoever is taking lead..”

Howard Houle, RDN Director for Area B, said he has found the Chamber’s economic development group is one that is good to work with.

“You are always well researched, and are using the money to leverage other funds to build on that. 

“Starting from zero is a very difficult place to start. And you are gaining momentum all the time.”

He complimented the Chamber’s Economic Readiness Project and Commercial Demand Forecast reports.

“If you were going to open a business on Gabriola, this is the document you would need. I’m very impressed, hoping we’ll hear more from you over the years.”

Jim Kipp, City of Nanaimo representative on the RDN Board, said it looks like Gabriola “is growing like wild.”

Pointing out the 600 businesses, Kipp suggested that should the Chamber or the Economic Development group require more funds, Gabriola could institute a business license requirement.

“$108 each. Charge them.”

Mark Lefebvre, Mayor of Parksville and RDN Director, said it was amazing to note that the objectives are very similar to Parksville and District Chamber.

The RDN staff report noted that the City of Nanaimo is currently developing an Economic Development Strategy and will be considering the structure and resources for the new service. 

Through the RDN Board appointed representative, Director Alec McPherson (Area A), the RDN is participating in this service review and consultation process. 

Upon completion, it is anticipated that if there is a desire by the City and the Electoral Areas to take a regional approach to economic development, there will be implications for the SCED service. 

The RDN, through its appointed representative, will continue to be part of the City’s process to develop a new economic development service and will report back on the outcome of this review.

Houle has acknowledged there is a possibility the RDN may want to return to a regional economic development process.

He said though that even if the rest of the RDN wants to work with the City of Nanaimo, there are plenty of precedents where Electoral Area B (Gabriola, Mudge and DeCourcy) operate service functions either independently of the rest of the RDN, or not at all.