I commend Sharlene Hinds for her letter (A letter to anyone who has complained, April 6) on how we all need to be working together towards a brighter economic future for the town of Hope. It is not as though this hasn’t been attempted already, there have been numerous invitations extended to all parties on several initiatives, but it is easier for some to remain deeply rooted in their positions and cast blame towards those that don’t see things the same way. In subsequent follow up letters and social media posts, I am baffled how many people still choose to remain ignorant to the many metrics and measurable indicators that demonstrate our community is growing, and there is no denying AdvantageHOPE has played a major role in this success. This continued complaining and finger pointing does nothing to help anyone work together, it only deepens the various divisions in town. It is nothing more than lateral violence, which is all too common during tough times. Change is a scary thing, and nothing brings about tension like things not being the way they have always been.
Many of our critics like to state we need industry, not tourism. The harsh reality is that industry often does not choose us, as we have little workforce to offer compared to larger centres just down the road. The move towards industry has to start somewhere, which is building local human capital through education, training and resident attraction. Being on the front lines of community forestry, I can also tell you that if you are waiting for a mill to reopen you are in the wrong town, as there has never been a tougher global market for small lumber producers. Making your town a more desirable place to live is the starting point, and not just for tourists. We are a former resource boom town, which is now bust. Industry is tough to prop up without primary resource extraction. What worked here 30 years ago is not going to be the answer today.
Tourism is a vague term that can mean anything from catering to elite international clientele, or simply giving the nearby residents from the Fraser Valley a reason to pull off the highway and discover there is a town behind our fast food outlets and gas stations. We are simply talking about attracting nearby locals that otherwise wouldn’t give our community a second look, and we already have many people zooming past every day on the several highways passing through our corridor. If we can pull in visitors from Chilliwack to Vancouver, we may very well later convert those visitors to residents, which we can confirm is currently happening. Tourism products also vary greatly, many still think of this as a gift store on the side of the road. For anyone that has been to Whistler, Squamish, Revelstoke, or Golden there is a whole other level of experiential tourism ranging from heli and cat ski operations, high end dining and accommodations, and a variety of hands on outdoor experiences. It unleashes a wave of entrepreneurial spirit and creativity, as true economic development does not belong to any board, committee, or chamber. Rather, it is providing the ingredients and opportunity to motivate people to make it happen.
And finally, the issue of taxpayer dollars. The bulk of the dollars that flow through AdvantageHOPE go towards operations, namely the Visitor Centre and Museum. These operations employ local people, great people who do a great job. The board of dedicated individuals that serve on AdvantageHOPE are 100 percent volunteer, and oversee a small amount of seed money which is leveraged into an impressive return on investment, look at the annual report and see for yourself. When you factor in the additional dollars that were not bound for our community without the efforts of the board, you would find this actually balances out to costing the taxpayer almost nothing, in fact, this year we leveraged the initial investment into a positive return.
In closing, I truly do welcome the opportunity to work together. Even if we don’t agree on the strategy, I see no harm in all parties pursuing what they feel the path forward should be, as long as we all stop trying to tear each other down. I for one have had enough, and we are losing good people in the process. Few people want to step up and volunteer when they are continually targeted and discredited for trying to make their community a more vibrant place.
BNRS, PAED Certified Professional Economic Developer
Vice Chair, AdvantageHOPE
Chair, Cascade Lower Canyon Community Forest