Every Fall hundreds of emerging and established business leaders converge on the Vancouver Island Conference Centre in Nanaimo for the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance’s Economic Summit. They get together to network and to learn and discuss the unique trends and challenges facing businesses on Vancouver Island. Last year, the pandemic upended the event, forcing a pivot to a fully online conference at a time when virtual events were still a relatively unknown, untested concept in our region.
A year later, VIEA pivoted yet again, this time to a hoped hybrid of in-person and online. Then, in early October, it made the difficult decision to remove the in-person portion of the event, given the threats posed by COVID-19’s Delta strain. VIEA’s team, in anticipation of just this circumstance, had planned the event for yet another quick pivot. A few weeks ago, President George Hanson told Douglas how 2020’s iteration is informing 2021’s event and what he’s most excited about this year.
How did you manage your pandemic pivot?
The challenge was we had to completely redo the event and find a technical platform that would best suit it, at a time when everyone was just figuring out moving online and what the best way to manage it was. So we didn’t have the benefit of other people’s experiences – we were, in a way, a test experience for an online summit. That made the experience extremely stressful, but after we pulled it off, the feedback we got from the 500 plus people that participated was that they were amazed at how well it went and it went without a single technical hitch, which says a lot about the work that our team did to practice and make sure it would go well.
Are there any lessons that you learned from that experience that you’re bringing forward to this one?
Oh, absolutely. We know for a fact that people are craving interaction with their peers, and that’s always been a key ingredient in previous Summits. They attract decision-makers and key stakeholders in government and business and community and those folk want that opportunity to come together and share ideas and problem solve. Last year attendees enjoyed the round table conversations because we included Q&As to extend the discussion, but we added almost an entire session attached to that roundtable so that people could engage with the speakers and with each other in a deeper dialogue. We’ll bring that in to the 2021 Summit.
How are you planning to roll with the punches if public health protocols limit in person networking?
We’ve deliberately designed the Summit so that all the presentations and round tables are virtual, because we knew there’s always the risk of a resurgence of COVID in some form or other that could prevent us from meeting in person.
We’ve added the in-person opportunity, including our usual trade show and exhibition to give participants the chance for that important networking/catch up that we’ve all missed.
Do you think that you’ll be taking an element of online events moving forward, even after the pandemic?
Life won’t ever be fully back to the way it was before the pandemic, and it’s inevitable that there will be a continuing marriage between in-person and the virtual world because the digital world enables a broader audience to engage with your work. It enables us to have speakers that we might never have been able to have because they wouldn’t have been able to take the time or expense to travel. And it continues to provide flexibility so that people can participate in person, but then head back to their home or office to take care of some business and be able to still attend virtually.
What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Summit?
There’s a lot to be excited about. As usual it’s a potpourri of important issues in our Island economy. I’m interested in our session on philanthropy and rethinking risk assessment, in terms of finding better ways to invest locally and nationally instead of internationally. I think that’s going to be fascinating. I’m looking forward to the Indigenous economy stories. And the session on the blue economy, both when it comes to emerging technology and aquaculture. There’s so much to choose from that I think everyone who attends will get a tremendous amount from it.
The 2021 VIEA State of the Island Economic Summit takes place October 27 – 28, now fully online. It will include their annual economic report, prepared by MNP, assessing the Island’s economy and how it’s faring comparative to previous years.
Visit viea.ca to learn more about this year’s Summit and to register.