Economic Lens: A Call for Greater Victoria 2024 Optimism

In this month’s Economic Lens, Dallas Gislason looks beyond doom and gloom economic outlooks to explore what we can be optimistic about in Greater Victoria for 2024.

We’re all familiar with the doom and gloom outlooks and the barrage of cynical takes easily found by opening a social media platform. But what if we started each year focusing on what’s working — with an optimistic view of changes and trends? Sure, there are challenges facing us (many, in fact!). But with every challenge comes opportunity. Here are some positive trends and opportunities I hope will help paint a brighter future for our Greater Victoria region — and maybe it will become even “greater” in the future we collectively create.

Douglas has already published its “Business Trends and Forecasts for 2024.” Likewise, every major bank in Canada released forecasts, as did the big consulting firms like KPMG and Deloitte. (And I also recommend the insightful commentaries from Export Development Canada).

To complement all these forecasts, I’ve identified a few areas that will start or continue to gain positive traction in 2024.

Record housing starts in Greater Victoria may be a good reason for optimism. Credit: Kwangmoozaa 

Housing Acceleration

B.C. legislation on housing has been fast-moving. Though we still need to consider how municipalities are affected in terms of fiscal health (the ability to invest in amenities that support growth), there is no doubt housing remains the top priority for Premier Eby and his cabinet as it is for many employers and employees alike.

In 2023, B.C. began losing people to other provinces for the first time in a while. Many employers told me they actually stopped trying to recruit simply due to a lack of housing availability. However, there is some good news. Business in Vancouver reported 87 per cent of B.C. housing contractors expect 2024 to be as busy – or even busier – as last year. The Times Colonist revealed Greater Victoria experienced 4,992 housing starts in 2023, beating the previous 2021 record. I’m optimistic this will result in a refreshing sentiment of hope for those who have been left out (or vulnerable) due to the precarious housing and rental market.

Declining Cost of Borrowing 

Now that the inflation seems to have stabilized (though that pesky word “stagflation” will still be thrown around), the cost of borrowing should decline,  if only slightly, in 2024, according to Deloitte Canada. Deloitte has also predicted economic growth for the latter half of 2024.

The hope is that slightly lower borrowing rates — combined with signals from the B.C. government on housing — could trigger a volume of investments across the province to get more housing built. The finished housing that results from legislative change remains downstream (past 2024), but busy construction sites in every neighbourhood will send a hopeful message that solutions are forthcoming.

Open Ocean Robotics provides safe, affordable, sustainable autonomous ocean monitoring solutions. Credit: Open Ocean Robotics. 

Clean Energy Shifts

Not only is B.C. leading Canada in the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), but we will also start to see progress in other forms of clean technologies and energy in 2024. At the end of 2023, UVic hosted the launch event for the Accelerating Clean Energy Transformation (ACET) initiative. ACET was one of the largest single investments UVic has ever received ($83.6 million — though several other academic institutions are partners). This puts a flag in the ground for establishing B.C. as a world leader in helping small to medium-sized communities adopt clean energy. That’s good news because many coastal communities still use diesel generators to power their communities.

Sustainability has become part of the cultural ethos of Greater Victoria. The tourism and hospitality sector has been growing its Impact conference for several years, aiming to be at the forefront of a much-needed shift in the global travel sector toward cleaner, more sustainable practices. Our tech sector is also leading across many different industries. Take, for example, Redbrick, which “aims to be a leader in drawing attention to the carbon footprint left by digital activity. Other local leaders include AXYS Technologies (wind energy), Open Ocean Robotics (monitoring ocean health), Pani (water desalination), Urban Solar (sustainable bus shelters), Reliable Controls (efficient building control systems) and FTS (forest fire monitoring).

In collaboration with UVic, Apricell developed novel tumor-on-a-chip technology that opens up multiple opportunities for researchers and oncologists. Credit: Apricell Biotechnology

Health (and Healthy) Innovation

Suppose I told you that UVic has North America’s largest health informatics faculty. In that case, you’d probably reply in two ways: “Wow, I had no idea!” followed by “What exactly is health informatics?”

Health Informatics combines the fields of healthcare, management, technology and data to make healthcare systems more efficient and effective for patients, and UVIc is the Canadian epi-centre of this.  No matter where you live in Canada, if you want to study this rapidly growing field, UVic is the only place you can go. This unsung story about our region is just one of several within the dynamic life sciences sectors.

Other recent local success stories include StarFish Medical, which brought a ventilator to market in six months during the pandemic (it normally takes 10 years!) and VoxCell BioInnovation (which prints 3D bio-tissues to accelerate health product testing). Other local successes include Apricell Biotechnology (the next generation of predictive in vitro models for cancer research and treatment), Cognito Health (accessible and affordable mental health treatment), and many more featured on this interactive map.

Last year, with support from the B.C. government, the Vancouver Island Life-Sciences Society (VILS) announced plans to create a bio-manufacturing facility in Victoria. This facility will help take good ideas within the life sciences sectors and accelerate their commercialization.

Artificial Intelligence: Good or Bad?

Last year was monumental for AI. 2023 may go down in history as the year that changed everything, so I’d be completely remiss in a forecast article for 2024 not to talk about it.

So, how do we go about predicting A.I.’s impact? One investor told Seattle’s Geekwire magazine: “By the end of 2024, machines will write more than half of the new code generated globally.” The quote mainly applies to software coding (for now), but I’d say that if 2023 is any indication, we have no idea what will happen in 2024 regarding AI and its adoption and disruption. Google’s Economic Impact Report 2022  forecasted that AI would add $210-billion to Canada’s economy.

The best advice I’ve heard is to “get ready.” Take online courses or attend an event or two to help unpack the implications of A.I. and how it might disrupt your sector or business. The Rising Economy Conference in Victoria from March 6 to 8 will feature some sessions on AI and business (visit to reserve your spot).

The global blue economy is expected to represent a $3-trillion opportunity by 2023. Credit: Ocean Networks Canada

Blue Economy Going Big

A major opportunity I’ve been excited about for several years is our region’s strengths in the fast-emerging global Blue Economy. In 2023, the provincial and federal governments announced $5-million of investment into South Island Prosperity Partnership’s Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST). This investment will enable our region (and other parts of coastal B.C.) to better coordinate and unlock our potential as a hub of ocean and marine innovation excellence.

Pacific Canada has many aquatic assets (from shipbuilding and ocean science to centuries of Indigenous wisdom and stewardship). However, we’ve traditionally trailed Atlantic Canada regarding how we organize ourselves for success. COAST is set to change that through many different projects and initiatives that will enable a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to test, iterate and ultimately commercialize new products and businesses, creating hundreds of new jobs.

The Indigenous Economy Continues to Sail

I wrote a Times Colonist op/ed a few years ago called “The Indigenous Economy is about to set sail.” In the article, I observed that the reconciliation process — and the success many First Nations and Indigenous businesses were already having — would converge into a new era of economic opportunity.

What does this mean for your business? Well, First Nations are investing heavily in new projects. Some of these include Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations’ Matullia lands in Rock Bay, the Malahat Nation building of Canada’s largest battery facilities and T’Sou-ke Nation’s continuing leadership in marine and ocean stewardship.

First Nations recognize the economic opportunities (Tsartlip First Nation’s call for economic development strategy closes January 29), but the Nations don’t always have the expertise or capacity they need in-house. This means new opportunities for joint ventures or joint procurement bids. A solid leader in working with First Nations as a partner is Hazelwood, which has completed over 30 projects for, or in collaboration with, 19 First Nations located on Vancouver Island and throughout B.C.  Learn about Hazelwood’s approach here.

Many of the best opportunities emerge from serendipitous  — or chance — meetings. Credit: Anchiy

Unexpected Areas of Shared Interest

I wrote about “Prosperity through Proximity” for a few months ago. One of the concepts I explored was the unexpected role serendipity can play in our careers and businesses (it certainly has for me!). An important ingredient of serendipity is that happenstance rarely occurs when working in isolation or silos. That’s why we need to increase our “serendipity surface area” by getting out of the house or office and into the world.  

What cross-sectoral or interdisciplinary opportunities will emerge for you this year? How will you discover them? (Hint: start interacting with more people outside your normal network).

What if 2024 contains some hidden opportunities or wins you haven’t even thought of yet? Show up and get involved. Luckily for us here in Greater Victoria, networking is mostly fun — and it’s easy to connect.

Conclusion … or a New Starting Point!

I know there are lots of bad things happening in the world today — from Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine to the “what ifs” around a potential Trump Presidency 2.0. (please, no!). But when we make a deliberate effort to contextualize the bad news by pointing to the good, we begin to see emerging opportunities and collaborative possibilities,  and we discover unexpected pathways to success.

Hopefully, this article sheds light on just a few of these positives to get our momentum going as we move deeper into 2024. Thanks for exploring them with me.

Dallas Gislason is the Executive Director of Community Economies at South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP), the economic development alliance for Greater Victoria he helped found in 2016. Dallas has applied his passion for building resilient and inclusive economies through projects and boards in various parts of Canada, the U.S. and abroad. He’s lived on Vancouver Island since 2010.