PORT McNEILL—Jon Potter is living on the North Island only for a short period this summer. But his work could leave a lasting impact on the economy of the region.
Potter, a master’s candidate in business administration at the University of Victoria, has been traveling from community to community, visiting entrepreneurs, businesses, educators, trainers and others to collect data that will be compiled by the Regional District of Mount Waddington as part of its ongoing Coordinated Workforce Strategy.
“It’s exciting,” said Potter, whose work will help establish both a web portal for North Island business and a database for the Regional District’s economic development programs. “I’ve been finding the response great. People are really sharing their stories, and that’s refreshing.”
Potter’s work — he’s dealing with up to 1,400 databases across nearly 170 data fields — may seem like basic bean-counter minutia to the layman. But he’s hardly been spending his time cooped up in a room hunched over a computer and a phone.
Collecting the names and addresses of North Island businesses through business license records was just the beginning. He then set out to find who he was missing.
“As one example, take Donna and Norman Stauffer in Alert Bay,” Potter said. “They do a ton of catering. But the only way I found out was I went to Alert Bay and talked to people. Everyone there knows about them, but only by word of mouth.”
Filling in some of these missing gaps will help the RDMW determine its economic development focus, identify job skills and training needed by local business, and help potential employees and customers find needed jobs or services.
And it can also provide a direct benefit to local businesses by establishing their profiles on the new web portal, expected to launch this fall.
“That’s a big part of what Jon’s collecting — what isn’t there in the public record,” said Penni Adams, project coordinator.
The work also benefits Potter, who has been in the area for much of the summer and who will wrap up his work this month, then spending a month compiling his final report before his contract runs out in late September. In addition to getting paid, Potter will get school credit for his work for the Coordinated Workforce Strategy Project.
“As part of a cooperative project, it’s meaningful work experience for me, that’s for sure,” he said.
Despite his student status and his relative youth, Potter did not come into this work a complete novice. Previously, he compiled a “not dissimilar” database for an oil and gas company for an international project it was planning in India.
“It is unbelievable good fortune we can have Jon here meeting people in person,” said Adams. “It’s so much better than having someone sitting in an office calling people.”
The good fortune was helped along by a grant to pay for the data collection and assembly. The Coordinated Workforce Strategy Project is a provincially funded program designed to help rural regional districts develop economic development strategies. It is being overseen by RDMW Economic Development Manager Neil Smith, whose department will also take over management of the web portal currently being developed by Backbone Technology of Vancouver.
It is hoped Potter’s data collection and interpretation will benefit employers, job-seekers, educators and even tourism on the North Island.
“I’m handing over my database to Backbone at the end of September,” Potter said. “My job is just to get the ball rolling. That’s not where it ends — that’s where it begins.”