Located between two of the region’s major harbours, Esquimalt is well-positioned as the gateway to opportunity.
Q+A with the Township of Esquimalt
The Township of Esquimalt is a diverse and growing community of about 18,000, whose walkable urban centre and small-town feel, alongside its progressive development strategies, make it attractive to residents and businesses alike.
Home to two of the region’s largest employers — Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt and SEASPAN — and situated alongside Esquimalt and Songhees Nations, Esquimalt is a hub of diverse industries, with incredible opportunities for growth. At the core of Esquimalt is the new Town Square development, designed to enrich its urban core and act as a gathering place.
Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins tells us about the Township’s collaborative approach to economic development, and why they believe in the power of relationships and cooperation to nurture healthy communities.
Why did you join South Island Prosperity Partnership?
Esquimalt benefits when the region benefits (like other municipalities in the region, our residents work in locations across the region) so joining SIPP just made good economic sense to Council. Further, we had an existing Economic Development strategy but lacked the resources and internal expertise to move the strategy significantly forward. We were accomplishing some of the objectives but unable to mobilize resources to take the plan from the short to long term goals and directions. Joining SIPP enabled us to draw on their resources and expertise to advance the strategy.
What do you see as key to growing a resilient, robust economic future for our region?
We need to capitalize on the significant industries and market areas we have in the region in a coordinated way. For example, Esquimalt, Victoria and Sidney have sizable ocean and marine industry and industry allies that all can benefit from a regional approach. The recently established Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST) will play a key role in implementing a coordinated, regional approach.
What is our region’s secret sauce when it comes to competing internationally to attract quality talent, businesses with household sustaining jobs, and investment?
The region is a primary gateway to Canada for Pacific economic development. Geography, our temperate climate, recreation, educational opportunities and lifestyle are part of the secret sauce to make this an ideal place to attract talent and investment. I also want to refer back to the second question to help answer this one. We have tech, ocean and marine, agriculture, recreation and tourism opportunities in our region, which will support further entrepreneurial related and spin off economic development.
What are you most excited about in terms of your own organization’s plans and potential?
The work Esquimalt completed with SIPP to advance our Economic Development strategy in a coordinated fashion. For example, we will be adding an Economic Development Function this fall with specific resources to build on the results of the work we did with SIPP.
What’s one thing about your organization you really want people to know that they probably don’t know?
Esquimalt is situated between the two major harbours of the region which together contributed $1.8 billion in 2019 to our local GDP and approximately 15,000 local jobs, according to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority’s recent Economic Impact Study of Victoria and Esquimalt Harbours. Our proximity (central within the region), parks, access to water, ease of transit, relative affordability and new growth all position Esquimalt as being very much a “secret sauce” opportunity.
What challenges are you most invested in helping our community overcome and why?
Esquimalt must continue to add housing. This will help both Esquimalt and the region. We have significant workforce’s at CFB Esquimalt and the Graving dock and we want to encourage people to take advantage of living close to work which benefits our climate change goals and the sustainability of the region. We continue to invest strongly in the health and social wellbeing of our community through grants for cultural events and ensuring we have the health support services needed by our residents. The second challenge for the region we are heavily invested in is in developing multimodal transportation solutions.
What lessons have most profoundly impacted you since the pandemic sent shockwaves through our community and economy?
The importance of communicating and doing it in every way possible under public health orders. People fear what they don’t know and communication helps inform. During the pandemic, the usual ways of social media and regular media did not meet the needs that are achieved with daily connection and conversation.
Everyone has a different comfort level and this challenges our ability to restart. Planning, discussion and education on our ability to re-open are critical for governments to help rebuild. A key example of the need for communication is the lack of federal government information and planning to re open our ports. We stood to lose billions of dollars in economic benefit from the cruise industry unless we signaled we are open to cruise industry business.
When you envision the South Island region in 2040, what will have changed? What does our future look like?
First Nations and Indigenous communities will be leaders in and an integral part of the region’s economic growth.
The region will continue to grow with greater density toward the harbours, and in the nodes of Westshore and [the] Peninsula. Transportation options by rail and water will enhance the connectivity of people and activities in the region. Our economic opportunities will continue to grow, and the economy will continue to diversify and become more resilient.