Economic development strings woven across the Valley

Ryan Watmough provides update to Canal Flats Council on Valley economic development initiatives

Ryan Watmough is slowly tying the strings thread throughout the Columbia Valley together to weave a stronger economic development rope in the Valley.

Mr. Watmough is the Columbia Valley community economic development officer. He updated Canal Flats Council at their last regular meeting Monday, November 26th on his progress so far and a general overview of community economic development.

Community economic development, he defined, is action by people locally to create economic opportunities that improve social conditions, particularly for those who are most disadvantaged, with an approach that recognizes that economic, environmental and social challenges are interdependent, complex and ever-changing. Summarized, community economic development is focused on bringing prosperity to everyone in the target area.

Mr. Watmough views his role as two-faceted: plugging the economic drain leaks, as well as encouraging new business development from further afield. “Leaks” in the Columbia Valley include focusing on existing business support such as shop local incentives, promoting ‘staycations’, and encouraging ‘experience economy activities’ such as golf, ziplines or tours. Increasing the flow of money into the community is encouraged by attracting businesses or individuals from afar to relocate through tools including a solid tourism marketing strategy, resident attraction projects, and initiatives such as the Columbia Valley Tech Cluster strategy (a targeted approach by economic development officials to bring a more concentrated technology focus into the Columbia Valley and, more specifically, to leverage the Columbia Lake Technology Centre in Canal Flats).

Specific to Canal Flats, Mr. Watmough told Council he would like to encourage the business community to form a local business committee under the banner of the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce as opposed to a separate business organization.

“The more we fracture, the harder it is to move forward,” he said.

He also passed along information to Council about SpaceFinder, a provincial website designed to amalgamate all publicly-available spaces for ranges of bookings including meetings, performances, exhibitions and video/film shoots.

“We have a lot of community spaces in the Columbia Valley,” said Mr. Watmough. “We’re not sure how well they’re used. But we know for sure taxpayers are paying for these spaces.”

He is encouraging each community to file their venues on the directory.

As previously reported in the Pioneer (November 15th), he highlighted the challenge of events unevenly spaced out throughout an average year, leading to cannibalizing of the audience and a drain on resources such as volunteer commitment, and suggested event planners may want to look at less busy seasons in the Valley in which to plan new event opportunities.

Other economic growth ideas Mr. Watmough floated at the meeting included welcome dinners, shuttle services, film commission exploration, unifying activity calendars, Valley-wide recreation passes, and Columbia Valley-branded signage, to name a few. He congratulated Canal Flats on their choice to promote the Columbia Valley’s new branding, being the first community to install new signage with the tri-coloured logo.

In a follow-up interview, Mr. Watmough told the Pioneer he hopes Valley Councils will provide communication about their goals, resources, challenges and opportunities. He envisions the Columbia Valley as a whole working collaboratively to build economic strength across the region, through open communication of goals and sources between local governments, businesses, and organizations. Overall, concludes Mr. Watmough, the work he began when he was hired in the summer of 2017 is going well. However, there is still a long ways to go to weave a stronger economic rope across the Valley.

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