Editorial: Toward a more stable Sooke economy

Another view of how the Sooke community can be more sustainable

The Sooke economy is like a ship on the open sea that has a leaky hull and is not carrying enough ballast.

Much of the wealth generated by residents of this lovely community leaves through purchases made elsewhere. This leakage makes it difficult to sustain local businesses and generate new jobs.  If more goods and services were produced and purchased locally, the resulting earnings  would make our economy more stable and better able to withstand the shocks from regional and national downturns, and from decisions in far-off corporate boardrooms.

Over the last 25 years, Sooke has shifted from a logging and fishing centre to a bedroom and retirement community, with a heavy reliance on seasonal tourism.  Over half of the adults (52 per cent) who live in Sooke work elsewhere, such as in Victoria and Esquimalt.  If retired persons are excluded, perhaps two-thirds of the working age  population are commuters.

Sooke provides young people entering the labour force with few opportunities for well-paying jobs. The construction trades and tourism are two exceptions but these sectors are highly vulnerable to outside shocks, such as changes in interest rates, currency exchange rates and corporate investment strategies.

Why do many residents and businesses in Sooke purchase most of their goods and services in other centres?  There are different reasons for this decision:  convenience for commuters; lower

prices and greater choice in Victoria and Langford; and a perception (often incorrect) that some goods and services are not available in Sooke.

Leslie Campbell, editor of the Victoria-based Focus magazine, addresses this concern in the July/August 2012 issue:

“The money each of us spends at locally-owned businesses tends to stay here, circulating and making for a healthy and interesting place to live.  Studies show local businesses are the best route to a stable employment scene, too.  They add to our community’s resilience.”

How can we make Sooke and the surrounding region into a place where people live, work and play?

The first step is to take stock of our potential as a community to be more attractive and competitive in providing the goods and services that are currently purchased elsewhere.  A “buy local” campaign that offers incentives by Sooke businesses on a given day each month would help.

A more ambitious approach, which has proved successful in Chemainus and on Saltspring Island, is to introduce a local currency. The Chemainus dollar, introduced in 2010, is pegged to the Canadian dollar and  sold through the Coastal Community Credit Union. Participating businesses display the “Merchants CH$ Supporters” decal in their windows.  The $200,000 in Chemainus dollars which have been put into circulation so far are easily redeemable in Canadian dollars by

local financial institutions.  A Sooke “Coho” dollar –  is it possible?

Another way to increase the trade in local goods and services is to develop a local exchange trading scheme (LETS). It would involve the set up of a network of members who would use a directory to list the specific items which they would have available for trade. Interest-free local credits would be used as a currency to facilitate the transactions. For example, a carpenter might receive a certain number of credits for a job requiring four hours of work which could be used to “purchase” yoga classes with the same credit value.  A locally-based non-for-profit organization would administer the directory and  transactions.  The first LETS was founded in the Comox Valley in 1983 and operated in Courtney. LETS initiatives are now in place in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Many efforts are already being made to make the economy of Sooke and the surrounding region more self-directed and stable.  The District of Sooke and the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area have both created economic development commissions to support environmentally and socially responsible growth and diversification. The Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce and the Sooke Transition Town Initiative are also actively involved in promoting a more resilient, locally-driven economy. The Sooke Region Tourism Association has done much to attract more visitors to our region.

Members of these organizations, together with concerned residents in Sooke and the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, are invited to participate in a symposium on how to strengthen our local economy which will be hosted by the Sooke Transition Town Initiative and the Juan de Fuca Cycling Coalition in the late fall.  More information will be provided on this event in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, you will participate.

In the meanwhile, a group of local citizens interested in this subject will host a table at Edward Milne community school during the Sooke Slow Food Cycle on Sunday, Sept. 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.   Please drop by, discuss the issues raised here and contribute your two cents (read Cohos) to this important discussion.

Mark Ziegler

Sooke