Houle considering RDN withdrawal from Economic Development Corporation

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, March 31 2015

Gabriolan Director Howard Houle is stirring the pot, so to speak, to get Electoral Areas which pay into the Southern Community Economic Development (SCED) Function through the Regional District of Nanaimo withdrawn from the SCED funding agreement.

Houle, who represents Electoral Area B (Gabriola, Mudge and DeCourcy) gave notice at this past week’s RDN Board meeting that he would be putting forward a motion at the April 14 Committee of the Whole meeting asking staff to prepare a report on the implications of Electoral Areas A, B and C withdrawing from the agreement.

Area A pays just over $59,000 toward the agreement, Area B pays $57,000 and Area C pays just over $30,000 into the funding agreement.

Through the agreement, that money is then added to what the municipalities and City of Nanaimo contribute to the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation (NEDC).

Houle’s concern is that other than some tourism attention given to Area B, the Electoral Areas benefit very little directly from the funding going in to the NEDC.

“Area C pays just over $30K per year - they get no promotion, because there’s nothing to promote.

“[Area] A pays over $59K and gets very little for that.

“On B we pay $57K this year. We do get more than anyone else, we have a Chamber that the NEDC can work with; they do work with them quite a bit. For $57K, I’d like to see more.”

Houle added when he has asked how the NEDC is promoting the economy (not just tourism) of the Electoral Areas, he was told the NEDC promotes many of the Nanaimo businesses where Gabriolans work. 

In terms of his timing in bringing this motion forward now, Houle said the RDN Board has been trying to get a meeting with NEDC members for five to six months.

“The head of the NEDC and their tourism people are never available to meet on the days that we are available.

“We’re getting no communication. Our agreement was they should be coming in and updating us [RDN Board] every three months. They only come when we request them to.”

He added that there is concern among the RDN Directors with changes that the City of Nanaimo has made with the NEDC structure without consulting the RDN Board.

“We would like to have more input. Just in terms of even talking to the RDN, we’re not getting our monies worth. Hopefully this means they will respond.”

If the RDN were to withdraw the three Electoral Areas from the current agreement (a 10-year agreement signed March 27, 2012), Houle said he would look to staff for some direction on what to do afterwards, whether that is setting up an economic development function similar to what the northern half of the RDN has, or just cutting the funding all together.

First, he wants to know what the implications are if the Areas withdraw from the current agreement.

Sasha Angus, CEO of the NEDC, contacted the Sounder later in the week and said that when that motion comes forward, he would look forward to talking to all three of the Area directors to examine the benefits which have been made for businesses and communities in the Areas through the NEDC and funding agreement.

Asked to give some examples, Angus said, “Off the top of my head - tourism piece, we’ve done a lot of work with the Chamber on Gabriola. We’ve also been working close with the Cedar-Yellowpoint Trail Artisans, including the Cedar-Yellowpoint Artisan Trail, That has been very well received.”

He said those are direct examples of how the NEDC has benefitted the Electoral Areas. 

Indirectly, he added, by boosting the economic well-being of one portion of the RDN, other areas benefit from that prosperity as well.

“As a region prospers, people who live in one area, will travel to another place for employment. A lot of people who live in the Electoral Areas are working in the City of Nanaimo.

“Tilray, we brought them to town. They’ve made a significant investment and are looking at another one in a year or so. 

“They’ve gone from zero employees to 140 and will go north of 400 when they are done. There are senior staff at Tilray from Gabriola.”

Even for Area A, he said, where there is little commercial activity, the NEDC has been working on ways to promote the lakes and trails system to add to the region’s appeal for visitors and residents. And going back to the example of living in one place while working in another, Angus said, “The census tells us where they live, it doesn’t tell us where they work. If they’re working in the City, they still bring those paycheques home to their community.”