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The Globally Fluent Region: Why Greater Victoria needs to think bigger about the future and what that means

Part one of a three-part series

By Dallas Gislason, Director of Economic Development, SIPP

In 2013, the Brookings Institute published a paper titled The 10 Traits of Globally Fluent Metro Areas that put forth not just the reasons why “global fluency” is important in 21stcentury city-regions, but the approaches to achieving this desired state. Let’s explore the first five traits in the context of our region.

What is global fluency and why does it matter?

Think about the current state of affairs in global and national politics. Nationalism. Populism. Racism. Fear-based rhetoric. All of these come to mind. But this negative discourse seems to be happening more at the macro-levels and less so at the local or city levels. Why? I believe cities, and the people who choose to live in them are generally more progressive and accepting of a globally-connected, diverse world. For evidence, just look at a detailed map of the USA 2016 election results. Even in red states (Republican), the cities were painted blue. While I’m not going to use this post to detail the preferences of Democrat vs Republican, in the case of the USA, there is no doubt that it is within the ‘rural base’ of the republican party where this nationalist movement (and the other words used above) have a firm grip.

This is why I, and many others, believe that cities and metro-regions can serve as beacons of hope in this era of populism and nationalism. Becoming a globally fluent region strengthens our position and resolve to realize a progressive vision for our region’s future where diverse people and diverse ideas flourish and prosper. As I described in a previous post, diversity has proven benefits to the economy.

Global fluency is the level of global understanding, competence, practice, and reach a metropolitan area exhibits in an increasingly interconnected world economy. This fluency facilitates progress toward a desired economic future. A high level of global fluency better enables a city to optimize the benefits of globalization and minimize its challenges.”

Becoming a globally fluent metro-region

Let’s begin by examining five of the ten traits of a globally fluent region and add context for how it applies to South Vancouver Island. Stay tuned for more traits in our next blog post!

1. Leadership with a worldview

Local leadership networks with a global outlook have great potential for impact on the global fluency of a metropolitan area.

It frustrates me to read the ‘letters to the editor section’ (and the frequent Op Eds) in the Times Colonist that repeat the same old complaints. It seems that, like most places, we have people who like to take it upon themselves to correct the course of society by making sure we are all aware of the parking spots that have been removed for bike lanes, or that politicians have ordered in lunch for a meeting. I understand that public scrutiny is important, but where are the Op Eds about how we can work together to make big leaps forward and evolve as a society?

We are fortunate that our region is a magnet for globally experienced and sophisticated individuals, people who have lived all over the world and have chosen Greater Victoria to retire or put down roots. From my experience, they are eager to share their “global” wisdom and put their vast experience to good use. However, as you can imagine, these people don’t hyper focus on small issues and won’t engage in trivial debates.

It takes the right project to meaningfully engage people like this, and we believe this is where the South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP) comes in. As an alliance of our region’s major stakeholder organizations, we tap into a vast network of knowledge, experience and leadership, and we can apply this wisdom to projects that will move our region forward in big ways.

As SIPP starts our next five-year strategic planning process (in 2020), it’s a good reminder to thank the leaders in our region who had the foresight to create and support SIPP back in 2016. We are only just getting started!

2. Legacy of global orientation

Due to their location, size, and history, some cities were naturally oriented toward global interaction at an early stage, giving them an early advantage.

We are a region founded on trade. I’m not just referring to a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost called Fort Victoria, but longer-term. First Nations have been innovating and trading here for millennia. Check out Jeff Ward’s TEDx talk on this very topic.  Jeff is the founder and CEO of local Indigenous-led tech company Animikii.

Later in the region’s history, we became a large base for Asian Canadians. We have the second oldest Chinatownin North America. Since BC is Canada’s gateway to Asia-Pacific, and the Canadian province with the least dependency on the USA for trade, we should embrace this global worldview as a local trait. Imagine if we were a proverbial bridgebuilder between the less familiar cultures around the Asia-Pacific region and North America. Foreign companies could set-up innovation centres here to adapt new services to the North American market and vice versa.

3. Specializations with global reach

Cities often establish their initial global position through a distinct economic specialization, leveraging it as a platform for diversification.

Metro-regions that specialize in certain industries have generally higher household incomes than those that don’t. The reason is that the more specialized a region is, more services are in demand. In our region, we have a history in oceans and marine space. We have the largest drydock on the west coast of the Americas, we are home to Canada’s Pacific Naval Fleet, and home to many specialized companies within the sector. We also have the largest underwater laboratory in the world.

There are other opportunities within our region’s tech sector where we can specialize—think of how data-driven the future will be, or the role of the tech sector in modernizing government services like GovTech. The Exchange Lab and BCDevExchange program is a good example. This was the primary reason why SIPP led our region’s bid in Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge. SIPP was shortlisted from among 126 applicants, invited to speak at global conferences, and were able to sign an MOU with the Shanghai Government.  We have strong competencies here that need to be organized. Where else will the next generation jobs come from if we aren’t deliberately pursuing them?

4. Adaptability to global dynamics

Cities that sustain their market positions are able to adjust to each new cycle of global change.

Though our region fared well through the last recession (our peak unemployment rate was 7.4%, which was low relative to other places), we were also among the slowest metros in Canada at recovery. We lagged almost dead-last for GDP growth out of Canada’s census metropolitan areas in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and only started to recover in 2015/16. Adaptability is about resiliency. And resiliency is about diversification of income types (i.e. a range of exporting sectors), diversification of markets (i.e. a range of places that products or services are sold), and less reliance on others (i.e. either having diversified import sources, or replacing imports with domestic production). Our region has made positive strides in this area over the last decade, but still has a long way to go. For example, our food systems are currently not very secure, but we are currently working on addressing that.

5. Culture of knowledge and innovation

In an increasingly knowledge-driven world, positive development in the global economy requires high levels of human capital to generate new ideas, methods, products, and technologies.

This is an area of strength for our region. Our three post-secondary institutions (University of Victoria, Camosun College and Royal Roads University) are producing high-calibre talent and making significant contributions to innovation and science. But we also seem to attract very creative and entrepreneurial people who move here to start companies, like Scott Phillips did before he started StarFish Medical, or people who branch out of successful companies and start their own, like Sean Bourquin and his co-founders of First Light Technologies did after departing from Carmanah. We also have a wide range of creatives—from entrepreneurial creatives like Limbic Media to what economic geographer Dr. Richard Florida classifies as “super-creatives“⁠—artists, musicians, poets, craftspeople, writers, and the like. We nurture these people as places like Makerspace, the Vancouver Island School of Art, and specialized secondary schools like the Pacific School of Inquiry and Innovation. Read part two where we explore traits six to ten in part two of SIPP’s three-part series The Globally Fluent Region: Why Greater Victoria needs to think bigger about the future and what that means. Stay tuned!

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