PORT McNEILL—After last week’s magnitude 6.7 earthquake off Vancouver Island chased participants in an economic planning workshop outdoors, co-organizer Annemarie Koch joked the workshop was attended by “all of Port McNeill’s movers and shakers”.
Kidding aside, Koch was not far off the mark. Along with business and tourism leaders and service club volunteers, the audience for the first of two planning workshops Apr. 23 included Mayor Gerry Furney and three-fourths of the Town Council.
And the temblor did not keep the crowd away for long, as the meeting quickly resumed with more than 40 people returning for a series of interactive roundtable discussions.
The workshops, held on back-to-back nights last week, were moderated by Bert Zethof, principal of the Zethof Consulting Group hired through a grant from Island Coastal Economic Trust. He, in turn, was assisted by Michelle Winkel and Koch, a Sointula resident and Zethof’s local point person in the planning process.
“We’ve been systematically gathering input to see what the community is telling us about its priorities,” said Zethof. “As we narrow down those priorities we’ll want to work with local champions and volunteers to get some of them up and running.”
The focus of the process seems split, almost evenly, between direct economic development and quality-of-life improvements designed to entice more people to move to Port McNeill to live, work and possibly start new businesses.
Zethof split the participants into small groups of 4-6 people, each of which gathered at separate round tables to jot down short-term and long-term objectives across a range of 11 core strategies. To spark the conversation, Zethof asked each group to complete and write down its collective response to open-ended question fragments, like “How might we …?”
Sharon Barratt, responding for her table, asked how the community might foster sustainability in local food production. Short-term goals included farmers’ markets, community gardens and instructional courses on how to grow food; one long-term project suggested was one or more large, commercial-scale greenhouses, possibly located at the nearby Sea Soil plant to take advantage of the heat given off by the composted material.
Zethof asked participants to consider where Port McNeill might best be poised to offer new businesses.
“You are a service community for Port Alice, Alert Bay, Sointula and the small communities in the surrounding area,” he said. “How can you benefit from that position?”
In addition to potential business opportunities, though, many workshop participants focused on improving amenities, beautifying the community and adding activities to make Port McNeill more attractive to potential new residents — and to retain young people who might otherwise move permanently from the area after graduating from school.
Among the suggestions were new or improved trail and sidewalk systems, public art, music and craft festivals. Programs designed to transition youth into the local workforce, involving employers and post-secondary educators, were also highlighted.
Zethof said his group would use the input from last week’s two workshops to further refine the economic plan, a working draft of which would then be unveiled in one more public meeting in early June.
“At that point we’ll have more of a definitive plan,” he said. “That will be the final chance for the community to tweak it.”