Originally posted on the communityeconomy.ca website, which has been under maintenance for some time, I repost this document here for reference purposes. It was subsequently signed by 153 other people.
The City of Victoria’s recently released Economic Development Strategy emphasizes a business-as-usual approach that includes building tourism, attracting outside investment and businesses, and expanding the airport.
Yet as we write this, Centennial Square is crowded with people, inspired by a movement seeking fundamental economic changes which has spread to hundreds of cities worldwide. And for good reasons.
In recent months, the United States government has twice come within hours of financial shut-down. National debt defaults have plunged the European Union into crisis. The Canadian government has boldly proclaimed “immunity”, while quietly taking on billions in insecure bank debts and moving into lockstep with our provincial government with broad-based cuts in all sectors. Is this really where we’re going to turn for help meeting our community’s economic challenges? Has anyone even calculated how many local jobs all this has already cost, and how many millions of dollars have already been drained away from local savings?
Meanwhile, other crises converge upon us. The price of gas has nearly doubled in two years. Climate change seems poised to increase in pace exponentially. How will local businesses and tourism, transportation, municipal services, health care, and individual households be hit?
And more importantly, what are our practical plans to build stronger self-reliance and resilience as a community? We are facing a crisis, but we’re also in the midst of an unprecedented opportunity to galvanize citizens throughout our region around truly innovative, environmentally responsible, and socially constructive economic changes.
These are just some of the practical plans we could all be discussing, exploring, and working towards, and which our governments should be providing leadership on:
- Aim for community economic development, not just business development. Goals and measures of economic health are not limited to growth in business revenues and the tax base, but include social, cultural and environmental quality of life indicators such as fulfilling employment, equitable access to opportunities, cleaner air, more community gardens, and closer-knit neighbourhoods.
- Prioritize locally-owned businesses and local resilience. The Strategy unrealistically proposes we can do it all: Attract outside investors and big businesses, and support small, locally-owned companies. Build the airport, and a more vibrant downtown. Focus on growing tourism, and on reducing reliance on tourism. But with limited resources at our disposal, we can’t do everything. We have important choices to make. We should focus on nurturing, strengthening and diversifying small, locally-owned enterprises and service providers across all our business sectors. Locally-owned businesses hire more locally, advertise more locally, use local business services more often, and spend more of their profits locally. It’s time for a region-wide “Buy Local!” campaign–Every dollar spent at locally-owned businesses means more income and jobs stay in the community.
- Use tax incentives and zoning bylaws more creatively. We could become a vibrant hub for green technology and small, ethically and environmentally responsible businesses. For example, use tax strategies to encourage the development of appropriate commercial spaces, and remove restrictions against home-based businesses.
- Foster community re-investment. Our region is missing out on models of community development financing that are already working elsewhere. We could be attracting local retirement funds and institutional investments towards supporting locally-owned social enterprises, arts organizations, business co-operatives, and affordable housing initiatives.
- Build working partnerships. We should be pro-actively developing more vital partnerships regionally between municipal governments, businesses, post-secondary institutions, non-profit organizations, rural and urban farmers, manufacturers, and resident associations to build entrepreneurship incubators, business mentoring and succession teams, Community Supported Agriculture, neighbourhood-based product and service markets, and bartering and alternative exchange systems.
- Improve affordability, reduce impacts. We don’t always have to think growth, growth, growth in a war against our environment’s natural limits. Often, less is more. We could substantially improve our economic health by reducing resource use and the local cost of living. We could improve lower-impact transportation options and provide incentives for low-cost housing. We could help neighbourhoods engage in tool sharing, freecycling, energy-use reduction, and other much-needed resource-saving initiatives.
- Ignite community power. Let’s engage the entire community – not just the business sector – in developing our ideas and plans for community economic development. In places like Winnipeg, Montreal and Ottawa, community engagement has led to innovative projects like social purchasing portals linking socially and environmentally responsible locally-owned businesses with local customers eager to support them. It’s good for the community, and it’s good for business.
This is only a small sampling of what’s possible. With an election fast approaching, we encourage all citizens to ask their municipal candidates about their plans for ensuring our region becomes as self-reliant and resilient as possible in the face of international financial instability, rapidly rising oil prices, and climate change. If we don’t start now, how much more difficult will it be in 20 years?
- Chair, Victoria Values-Based Business Network
- Resigned from Victoria’s Economic Development Advisory Panel over reservations about final Strategy