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Economic group hopes to increase tourism in Sooke

Economic Development Commission started with lobbying for improvements to Highway 14

Two years ago, the District of Sooke was asked to join a regional economic group that would sell the attributes of Greater Victoria.

Sooke councillors said thanks, but no thanks.

Now a local economic group has taken the torch for Sooke, with a goal of making the community better.

The Sooke Economic Development Commission formed about a year ago, after a few local business owners kept seeing themes in discussion with their customers. One of the main topics of conversation was Highway 14.

The group then decided to launch a digital campaign, called #DividedBy14, to build awareness and lobby for improvements to the notoriously problematic road.

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“We’re a non-political organization, and all of us work in businesses that are heavily involved with the public,” said David Evans, owner of Stick in the Mud Coffeehouse and member of EDC. “For instance here at the Stick, I’ll see up to 500 people a day, it’s a very social environment and people tell me what’s on their mind.”

Evans said people might be reluctant to speak with a politician or share concerns at a council meeting, so the organization’s goal is to get good ideas from the community and try to implement them.

EDC now has seven members, which include Evans, Jeremy Wilson, Randy Clarkston, Doug Wittich, Megan McMath, and Wolfgang Richter. After a recent Sooke Council meeting they also caught the attention of Coun. Bev Burger, who Evans said will help relay the group’s ideas to council.

Evans says the group was excited to see government funded improvements begin on Sooke Road, and though it will keep the momentum going on the campaign, its now shifted its focus towards a different topic: tourism.

“We think that Sooke is an underutilized resource on the South Island,” said Evans. “We have everything Vancouver Island has to offer when it comes to outdoor recreation, and its only 45 minutes from Victoria.”

Jeremy Wilson, another EDC member and owner of the 17 Mile Pub, agreed: “In my opinion, we have some of the best mountain biking, hiking, fishing, surfing and waterfront access in Canada. We are in the perfect location for adventure tourism.”

Wilson and Evans said the group hopes to hold an outdoor recreation gathering in April and bring in experts from outside the region to discuss how to become a more prominent tourist destination.

Wilson said tourism is what communities like Squamish and Whistler’s economies thrive on, and the EDC wants to make the same thing happen for Sooke.

“Our group wants to help get some momentum going. We hope to work with Sooke council and community organizations try to cultivate more business out here,” Wilson said.

Evans added that it is up to the community to make things happen.

“We as a community have to be the drivers of what we want Sooke to become. If we want to improve, it’s up to us.”

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