“Economic development” has different definitions for different people.
At the May 8 council meeting, councillors and the mayor could not agree on how to define that. Among the responses, some believed that economic development meant having a growing industrial and commercial sector, others said that tourism has strong links to economic development and that having a shortage of skilled-trades labour implies that Hope’s economy is booming.
The Standard asked two businessmen, a politician and an academic on what they felt “economic development” represented.
To Canyon Cable and NAPA owner Ray Zervini, a healthy economy comes from long-term sustainable jobs.
Zervini defines those jobs as full-time, non-seasonal, wage-paying jobs. Zervini said Hope should try to attract these types of businesses, saying that stable income also brings benefits for local businesses as they can depend on residents to stay afloat.
“These businesses are 52-weeks of the year, all year … and those establish a good economic base of Hope,” said Zervini. “That’s what I envision as economic development.”
Zervini said one flaw of tourism is the seasonality of the industry, and this phenomenon makes it challenging for organizations to create a sustainable economy from tourism. However, if Barrick Gold’s plan to build a year-round resort near Texas Lake goes through, it would prove a boon for Hope.
For Hope and District Chamber of Commerce president Lloyd Forman, he believes Hope can gain from the challenges businesses face in Vancouver.
“Vancouver is not only out of industrial land, Vancouver’s cost are too high for employees,” said Forman.
He said tourism is good, “but we must go much deeper than that.” Forman thinks the way to get industries and businesses into Hope is to prepare. He suggests immediately cataloguing all available commercial, industrial and residential properties and figuring out the cost to service them. That way, when an interested party comes to Hope, this information can be presented.
However, both Zervini and Forman said that Hope has demographic challenges.
Zervini said that large businesses face the challenge of not having enough labour to sustain their operations. Zervini suggests that smaller industries such as ones focused on high-tech could thrive here because of Hope’s infrastructure. Zervini also said that Hope has ample vacant commercial properties for smaller industries to move in, and these businesses could grow at a rate that the local labour market could sustain.
“But when you talk about large manufacturing, Hope’s not big enough for that,” said Zervini. “You could never have a Molson’s … there’s just not enough people.”
The challenge Forman sees in Hope lies in the aging population in Hope. The average age of Hope is 49.3, as compared to 42.3 in British Columbia, according to the 2016 Census.
“I know some people don’t like it, I say it’s turning to an old-folks home,” said Forman. “We have to find some way to encourage young people and to try and mentor them and tutor them while we’re still active enough from the industry ourselves.”
Forman believes that the way to attract a younger workforce lies in by having “stable employment” by attracting businesses here.
University of the Fraser Valley associate professor Cherie Enns specializes in community development, where agencies and stakeholders create a vision to move forward.
“When a community is going through change, the decision about the direction to take should be a collaborative process,” said Enns.
Enns said that even when ideas seem in conflict with how to move forward, the ideas are not mutually exclusive.
“It should not always be ‘or,’ it should be ‘and,’ ” said Enns, adding that a facilitator can work through these challenges.
Enns said some towns have decided to become “age-friendly,” targeting the aging demographic in services, housing and other opportunities. Others have targeted the tech industry because of its remote working possibilities, and the film industry because there are tax incentives.
Indeed, film technician Art Green believes Hope has potential in attracting the film industry. To him, what Hope lacks is a large indoor venue.
“It’s my dream that we would … actually build a cultural centre that we could use for large gatherings and concerts, that could double as a film stage,” said Green.
Green said that Hope gets a lot of location filming, but the town misses out on the majority of the action because most films require an indoor location.
“If we had that availablility of such a facility, then I’m sure we could at least triple or quadruple the amount of filming that we get in Hope and the longevity of the amount of filming that they do as well,” said Green. “If we could land a television series here in Hope, then we could easily increase the gross domestic product of Hope by at least $10 million a year.”
Green, who ran as a candidate for the Fraser-Nicola riding, said he told his NDP counterpart Harry Lali and Liberal MLA Jackie Tegart that this riding should increase its presence in the film industry. Green also said he wants to start his own film commission here.
“The first way to get to ‘B’ is to get off your ‘A.’ ” said Green.
Asked if he felt tourism has a place in Hope’s economy, Green said it has a place, given how it ranks as one of British Columbia’s bigger industries. Green said that Hope needs to further exploit this by bringing in a “destination resort” which could be a hotel, casino or convention centre.
Green also added that he thinks Hope should try to attract both large businesses and small ones concurrently. When asked about the argument that Hope does not have a labour base to support a large industry, he said build it and they will come.
“If they knew they could make a decent living … you wouldn’t have a problem getting people to come to Hope,” he said.
Green said that the high taxes in Hope would also scare away smaller businesses because of the low profit margin.
During the recent provincial election, other candidates tried to discredit him as a spendthrift. Asked how he would fund his projects, Green said his projects are self-sustaining.
“New revenue streams is what this town needs to run it,” said Green, furthering his argument against high taxes by saying that increasing taxation every year is not the way to go.
Residential taxation for a household with the average assessment has gone up since 2014. In 2014, the municipal portion of that person’s taxes would be $1,436. This year, he or she would have paid $1,530.
An indoor facility, he said, would rent out for $1,000 per day for filming purposes, and could be used for graduation ceremonies and outdoor events such as the Great Fraser River Salmon BBQ Competition in bad weather.
Green also said whether the town would succeed in building an infrastructure project depends on the town’s priorities, pointing to how Agassiz has an indoor facility.