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

Part two 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 21st century city-regions, but the approaches to achieving this desired state.

We looked at traits 1-5 in an earlier blog post, and now we’re going to explore 5 more traits of globally fluent metro-regions.

6. Opportunity and appeal to the world

Metropolitan areas that are appealing, open, and opportunity-rich serve as magnets for attracting people and firms from around the world.

I know that we are extraordinarily appealing as a place to live, but our region is still working toward being the dynamic, opportunity-rich metro that we can be. While I do make a strong argument that our region is open and welcoming in this previous post, however with only 18% foreign-born citizens compared to over 30% in many cities across Canada, we need more immigration to address major workforce demand in our aging society. This means not only telling our story abroad in a compelling way, but also utilizing our networks (alumni, business, cultural, tourism etc.) to ensure that the region’s brand story is understood and repeated.

One thing to keep in mind is how powerful “city” brands can be on the world stage. I even told a former BC Government cabinet minister that his #1 brand to sell abroad was “Vancouver”. He wasn’t convinced that many people would know Vancouver as “Vancouver, Canada” instead of “Vancouver, BC” so I asked him “What province is Shanghai in?” (hint: he didn’t know either). While “Victoria” or “Greater Victoria” will never be Paris or New York on the world-stage, it doesn’t mean that making millions upon millions of people aware of who we are isn’t worth pursuing. And once newcomers arrive, we need to nurture a culture of belonging and inclusion.

7. International connectivity

Global relevance requires global reach that efficiently connects people and goods to international markets through well-designed, modern infrastructure.

BC is Canada’s gateway to Asia. Our international airport is a rare gem, with multiple awards for being a leading regional airport in North America. We’re also well connected to YVR (one of the greatest airports in the world!), and have over 30 flights per day connecting us to Vancouver and Seattle. Many of these flights are harbour to harbour. Being able to walk to a meeting in another country is pretty cool!  I’d say we’re strong in this category, in the context of not being a major hub city like Denver, Atlanta, or Singapore, but we can always improve. The first way would be connecting us to more places in the USA (we lost our direct route to San Francisco this year and a three-daily connection to Seattle via Delta as well). To do that we need pre-clearance at our airport, which opens up the opportunities immensely. Another significant way would be through multi-tiered international partnerships. Rather than a typical Sister City agreement (friendly cultural sharing), we develop targeted Gov to Gov partnerships, academic and institutional partnerships, and business-to-business partnerships (here’s an example of a Canada-Germany collaboration program).

8. Ability to secure investment for strategic priorities

Attracting investment from a wide variety of domestic and international sources is key in enabling metropolitan areas to effectively pursue new growth strategies.

While our region does attract a lot of real estate investment, we are not yet a magnet for other types of capital investment. However, we do have some great examples of tech companies that attract capital: MediaCore acquisition by WorkDay, AbeBooks acquisition by Amazon, Schneider acquisition of Power Measurement, recent VC investments into companies like HYAS Animikii—and many more.

VIATEC, the region’s high-tech association, has a goal to grow many of these small tech companies into what they call ‘whales’ (larger companies with over $100M in revenues). This is important to our local ecosystem because these types of companies will attract globally-experienced executives, who in turn, will mentor less-established managers. Until then, VIATEC is focused on developing this talent from within.

9. Government as global enabler

National, state, and local governments have unique and complementary roles to play in enabling firms and metropolitan areas to “go global.”

While Governments of Canada and BC are both active in international trade development, I would argue that as a region we aren’t thinking deep enough about our place in the bigger picture. Local governments define their agendas within their own jurisdictions because that’s how the provincial legislation is designed. To counteract this, we need to work toward more collaborative models of governance. SIPP is a great example of this because it has the buy-in of 10 local governments, 7 First Nations, and many more non-government stakeholders, while also leveraging funding equitably and giving all partners an equal vote.

SIPP is just the starting point. While we’ve proven that collaboration wins, now we must take this to the next level by activating ‘clusters’ (see #3 from previous post) that carry our region into the future. Clusters are all about governance and collaborating toward big goals—more on that in a future post!

10. Compelling global identity

Cities must establish an appealing global identity and relevance in international markets not only to sell the city, but also to shape and build the region around a common purpose.

Our region is well known, but not as a centre of innovation. In fact, if you were to poll your friends and family in other parts of the world (or even Canada!) and ask them what defines this region, they would probably talk about whales, salmon, Butchart Gardens or how much they liked Granville Island (which is often confused for Vancouver Island). If our region wants to look at a bold, prosperous future, then it’s time to build our reputation and add to that reputation, tell a different story about our region’s future—one of a dynamic, high-energy, future-facing and knowledge-rich, and values-driven metro-region! See #6 for more on this!

The South Island Prosperity Partnership is a catalyst for taking our region into the future. We believe that, and we think our stakeholders believe that. However, we are only the ‘conductors of the orchestra’. This is an analogy I like to use when describing the role of SIPP in the local economy. The conductor arranges the music, engages the musicians, divides the elements into the essential layers, sets the pace of the music. But, ultimately, no music happens at all without the players. And not just the violins either. An orchestra requires all sorts of layered pieces to be complete. That’s our regional economy. SIPP does not create jobs or innovation. We are a facilitator. We look at the eco-system and make sure the pieces are working together to make sweet music. Which part will you play along this journey?

Stay tuned for the third and final part of this blog series on becoming a globally fluent region!

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