Greater Victoria municipalities eye regional economic development agency

Sooke mayor says economic development is fragmented throughout the region; more needs to be done

Sooke is being asked to help fund a new economic development agency, which would “sell the region.”

A recent summit, hosted by the Greater Victoria Development Agency, pitched the idea of creating a new economic body which would include and receive funding from all 13 Greater Victoria municipalities.

The existing Greater Victoria Economic Development Agency is associated with the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce and receives funding from Victoria, Saanich and other groups, with an annual operating budget of about $180,000.

By contrast, the new organization is projecting annual operating budget of about $700,000.

Coun. Rick Kasper was the only political representative from Sooke who attended the summit, and was enthusiastic about the proposal.

“It was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I thought it was a very good event,” Kasper told district council.

“It clearly pointed out to me that we should seriously be considering a regional approach.”

More than 60 per cent of Sooke’s workforce is not employed within the community and commute to other parts of the region to work.

Mayor Maja Tait said economic development is fragmented throughout the region.

“The reason I support the concept is because it keeps our residents employed,” she said.

“The reality is a lot of our workforce has to commute to another municipality for work. I’d rather them continue to do that as we build our own commercial tax base as opposed to them having to go to the [Alberta] oilsands and being out of province to find work.”

Under the GVEDA proposal, each community would pay to operate the economic agency based on a five-year fixed funding formula of a 50/50 blend of per capita (2011 census) and a percentage of total tax collected in dollars.

In Sooke’s case, the muncipality would pay $2,500 in startup costs, $7,300 the first year of operation and another $16,422 in years two to five.

Tait sees the new new economic development agency working to build the regional economy. Local chamber of commerces would be more service oriented, helping people find local “shopping experiences.”

“Over time we want Sooke to build a stronger commercial core for more local employment, but we still need to think of the people that are commuting everyday and that they have job security wherever they go in the region.”

Kasper said another benefit to a regional economic development agency is that it’s committed to examining all the municipalities official community plans and economic plans to develop a regional strategy.