South Island Prosperity’s inaugural Rising Economy week brought together local and international thought leaders to tackle some big questions around how to reboot the Island’s economic recovery. The digital format meant speakers like the Honorable Mélanie Joly, John Stackhouse, Senior Vice President at RBC, and Tim Moonen from the UK-based Business of Cities could join in conversation with some of Vancouver Island’s most important innovators and thought leaders.
“We knew from outreach and surveys done by our Rising Economy Taskforce that the economy was a leading issue, but I think as the second wave of COVID-19 emerges, people really want to come together to learn, collaborate and strategize to build back better,” says Emilie de Rosenroll, CEO of SIPP, Greater Victoria’s public/private economic development agency.
de Rosenroll says high concern about the economy is also reflected in declining consumer confidence as the second wave of COVID-19 emerges. “The Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index dropped more than half a point to 51.9 in the week ended Oct. 16. This is the third straight decline and it brought the index to the lowest point since mid-August.”
To provide structure and actions for recovery, SIPP created Reboot: Greater Victoria’s Economic Recovery, a plan that was released as part of the conference. It was developed earlier this year by the Rising Economy Taskforce which included 40 businesses, community, government and academic leaders who worked with 12 sector committees. The plan is built around 10 recovery pillars and includes actions and recommendations for implementation over the next two years.
The plan’s actions for Greater Victoria were reflected in the conference’s daily themes:
Looking to our cities and urban centres, speakers questioned the role of the mainstreet in creating close knit, resilient communities. In Bringing Mainstreet Back to Life Mary Rowe, President and CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute talked about the role of placemaking in envisioning the future of cities. Cascadia’s Next Economy: The Future of Sustainable Mega-Regions was the subject of another panel discussion, with the opportunities and challenges presented for people living on both sides of the Canada-US border.
One of SIPP’s recommendations for recovery is to help the workforce adapt to the new economy through the development of a Future Skills Alliance with industry, government and education stakeholders, ensuring rapid responses to unemployment. Another important recommendation is to ensure our creative industries come back stronger through investments in venues, supporting artist-in-residence programs and ensuring our commercial districts are activated with placemaking and people-centred enhancements.
At a time when the potential to disrupt lies in the hands of many, this theme extends to a lot of ideas discussed at the conference. In the Digital Tsunami, panelists discussed systematic disruptions caused by the pandemic, from health care to work-life balance. In The She-cesson: How COVID-19 is Killing Gender Diversity the panel addressed startling facts that a third of Canadian women are considering quitting jobs and 1 in 4 U.S. women are reducing hours and leaving the workforce due to COVID-19 pressures.
Green recovery, the future of flight and innovation for borders are global trends, and looking to a green future must consider needs for travel and international connections. Conversations focused on how Canada will come back stronger. One of SIPP’s recommendations is to strengthen local businesses by offering digital skills education and programs to leverage e-commerce and mitigate COVID-19 impacts. This involves a number of shop-local and food and beverage initiatives.
Canada’s 100 billion dollar emerging Indigenous economy was the focus of Indigenomics: Opportunities in the Indigenous Economy. Indigenous people have been displaced from their economies and world view. Entrepreneurs are changing that narrative but the growth of indigenous economies requires access to capital investment and microloans. SIPP recommends closing the equity gap with First Nations by developing an Indigenous Economic Development Office for the South Island, owned and operated by First Nations.
In The Zoom Boom panelists discussed the rise of zoom towns and how they rely on a high quality of communication and infrastructure; how to ensure opportunities for progression and equity; and what lasting change might look like.
An important recommendation from SIPP is to embrace the 21st-century innovation economy through programs to accelerate business investment in research and development, including building a targeted Ocean Innovation Hub to pursue emerging opportunities in the global Blue Economy. The City’s plan, Victoria 3.0 – Recovery Reinvention Resilience – 2020-2041 is an economic action plan for Greater Victoria that speaks to those recommendations.
Discussions ranged from the potential of the blue economy to position the West Coast for global competition against countries like Norway whose ocean industries account for about 70% of the country’s export earnings, and Canada’s own East Coast, to plans for the future of resilient and safe travel in the region.
“There are still a lot of unknowns, but one thing is certain,” adds de Rosenroll, “we need to embrace the idea that we are in this together and go all-in. A partial recovery is not a recovery. Recovery for some sectors and not others is not a recovery.”