Dear Editor:

I would like to thank Mr. Pacey for his letter in the August 5th edition of The Pioneer regarding economic development. I agree completely that the various communities and entities in the Columbia Valley area need to come together to work on economic development and diversification.

There is no question that the valley has suffered from the closure of the Canfor mill in Radium and the slowdown in the forestry industry. The valley also has a big identity problem: we think that our main industry or economic driver is tourism, when in fact, in recent years it has been the development, construction, and servicing of second homes and recreational real estate with a few hotels, campgrounds and timeshares thrown into the mix (although arguably the number of overnight accommodation units has actually decreased).

The recreational real estate market has flattened, new building has stalled, and many of the current property owners are coming out less often. Why? Maybe the weather, the economy, demographics, cheap U.S. real estate, gas prices, poor service experiences in the valley, HST, new speeding and drinking and driving laws, or maybe a combination of all of these factors?

Before creating a well-paid and potentially bureaucratic Economic Development Officer (EDO) position and support staff, we need to first honestly analyze our strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats, and develop an Economic Development Strategy.

We need to know realistically what this valley should focus on, how we can help to encourage well-paying jobs, increased enrollment in schools, and a resilient economy that can weather some of the global ups and downs. We need to know if encouraging expansion of existing businesses, or attraction of new businesses is the best method.

When we know what strategies to focus on, based on sound information (for example, what local government can, and cannot, legally give tax breaks for), then we can come up with options and take action. One of those actions might be hiring a full-time Economic Development Officer, but some of the strategies might be better achieved by hiring expert consultants in a specific field or helping to fund a non-profit group already doing some of the work (for example, chambers of commerce, business committees, arts councils, etc.).

There is a lot of potential that a sub-regional/Columbia Valley Economic Development Strategy will be partially funded by the Columbia Basin Trust. Coming up with the money will likely be the easiest part; coming together and spending the money wisely to achieve the desired results that will be the hard part, and not something that will have immediate results.

We need to talk about long-term solutions for complex problems, and leave the Band Aids in the first aid kit. We also need to be honest about what factors we can control, and which we cant, and we need to have realistic expectations about what we can accomplish.

The first step is to have strong political commitment to move this effort forward as a key priority for 2012. I can commit that if I am privileged enough to be re-elected, I will work hard to see that a Columbia Valley Economic Development Strategy is developed, and that implementation is begun as soon as possible, although at this point I wont promise anyone (including Mr. Pacey) an Economic Development Officer job.

Gerry Taft


District of Invermere