The Regional District of Mount Waddington board was given a presentation on a new Strategic Sectors Study Feb. 17.
The purpose of the study, presented by Pat English, manager of economic development, is to provide a foundation on which the RDMW can develop policies and actions to support the local economy over the next five years.
“I joined the office here in 2013. At that time, the last strategic study had been done quite a few years ago,” said English. While the plan had been updated, “there had not been a detailed look at where the opportunities lay for the local economy.”
It was suggested that “I should take a look at doing an (updated) economic development strategy piece for the region,” he said.
In the fall of 2013, English submitted an application for funding to the Island Coastal Economic Trust, and $12,500 was approved. The Regional District of Mount Waddington contributed $10,000 and an additional $2,500 was received from Community Futures.
In early 2014, a consultant – Ecoplan International – was hired as the consultant on the project and a steering committee was formed, English said.
At least 70 people, representing 55 groups or companies, provided input. In May and June, the project team held a community forum, three focus groups, and made numerous phone interviews to gather information.
English explained five main sectors were selected based on their current size, growth potential, diversification, jobs, and degree of local control.
“Each sector has number of action ideas on it,” English said.
“My work plan is to take those action items and incorporate them into my daily work plan. The opportunities that are identified are really going to shape my work plan for the next five years.”
The study identified forestry as the largest sector with 46 per cent of the region’s workforce being directly, or indirectly, impacted by it.
Aquaculture was the second strategic sector identified, said English.
It employs “400 person years” of employment with potential for 10 per cent annual growth in world-wide markets. English explained this “400 person years” term was used because of the seasonal nature of the industry.
There are issues in the industry related to environmental controls and science, English said, but “if they can be overcome, addressed suitably‚“ aquaculture is “something that should be pursued.”
English said shellfish aquaculture development should also be supported including the development of registered processing facilities.
Small business was third. English told council there are 968 businesses in the regional district. Ninety-five of them have fewer than 10 employees and 45 per cent provide employment for the owner. The region needs to do what it can “to prevent leakage” of dollars down island, English said, through things like local hiring and purchasing.
“We have to do everything we can to bring that money back into the North Island.”
Fourth was the learning sector that, he explained, promotes knowledge and learning-type activities.
These types of activities are “gaining more and more currency worldwide,” he said.
The learning sector offers potential for growth in jobs, increased skills and competitiveness, and attracting new residents to the area.
The final sector was cultural and adventure tourism that is the primary driver for visitor growth in the region.
English said the study calls for training for everyone who comes into contact with a tourist.
One of the ways to support tourism is to encourage reasonable visual buffers in and around the key features that people come to the area to see, said Manager of Planning Jonas Velaniskis.
Trail management and signage initiatives were also discussed.
Other opportunities for growth in the regional district include green power and mining.
Actions that would benefit all sectors would be supporting the development of broadband linkages, and working with stakeholders and lobbying for the establishment of cellular coverage across the region. The lack of high-speed internet “has been a major constraint,” said Velaniskis.
The plan also calls for supporting the development of agriculture in the region by incorporating it into land use policies and zoning bylaws.