It’s been nearly seven years since the District of Hope adopted its economic development plan (December of 2009) but, according to Chamber of Commerce board secretary Sharlene Harrison-Hinds, the economic outlook for the community doesn’t seem to have advanced far beyond what it was in 2009 when the plan was adopted.
“If you ask the political leaders in town, or the folks at Advantage Hope, it seems that all they tend to talk about is tourism. It’s all well and good to do that, and tourism is an important part of our economy, but until there are some major changes in what we have to offer tourists, that segment of the economy, on its own, isn’t going to be the answer,” said Harrison-Hinds.
She points out that attracting tourism to town becomes a chicken-and-egg scenario wherein tourists don’t want to come and stay in a community where there are no large “star-level” hotels, limited culinary options, and no up-scale shopping opportunities. Those businesses, will not come to a community until a critical mass of visitors make the establishment of those businesses viable.
“The truth is that, awhile back, the mayor proposed putting up a sign that said This way to Hope’s famous downtown. In the nine years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen the downtown go steadily downhill. Saying it’s famous or great doesn’t change that.”
It’s a problem that is acknowledged by Hope’s newest economic development officer, but he’s confident that change is coming.
Patrick Earl took over the reins as executive director of Advantage Hope, Hope’s economic development and tourism agency, on Sept. 11 and has high hopes for the tourism industry in the community. He cited the natural beauty of the region and the well-developed trail system in the surrounding area.
“We’re working on things like signage and so on to promote the mountain biking trails, and the mountain bike park right here in town is set to be help in attracting that set of tourists,” said Earl.
But he acknowledges the truth of Harrison-Hinds’ observations about there being a need for more than just tourism to drive the district’s economy toward growth.
“I’m a big fan of diversity in the economy, and I’m confident that we have a lot to offer other economic drivers in the community. The agri-business potential, for example, is tremendous and I can see attracting a processing plant here in the future, given that we are at a major highway junction with transportation routes to every part of the province and beyond,” he observed.
“From here, we can move product in any direction.”
On a different tack entirely, Harrison-Hinds is more inclined to look to the establishment of large-scale retirement and extended care homes for the community as being the solution to an economic malaise within the district.
“We have a hospital, a great recreational facility, a good quality of life in beautiful surroundings and we’re close to large population centres. If someone would come in and build a large retirement community, think of the number of jobs that would bring in,” she said.
But while other options may well exist, some hurdles still need to be addressed before any large-scale economic growth is even possible.
“One of the problems we have is a lack of housing for any workers we would be attracting to the community,” acknowledged Mayor Wilfried Vicktor.
“We’ve taken some action in that regard already, making secondary suites possible in the new housing developments, and we’ll be looking at more initiatives to address the problem. We know that housing has to be a priority, no matter what economic development takes place. You can’t grow the community if people have nowhere to live.”
The mayor shares some of the views of both Advantage Hope and the Chamber of Commerce, and is constantly on the lookout for improvements to the community.
Of course, there is always the possibility that the Barrick Gold Corp will pull the trigger on their proposed $600 million ski resort on the outskirts of Hope.
“Of course, that would be a game changer, and I think they’re very serious about it,” said Vicktor. “But we’re not just going to wait and count on that to happen. This is an amazing community and I know that we can make it even better if we work together to make a brighter future a reality.”