Photo by James MacDonald

Day One of the Rising Economy 2022 conference has delved into several economic leadership issues. Perhaps none are more important than building resiliency – in our community and in our economy.

As we envision a post-pandemic future, there are several lessons from our COVID experience which can help our region build back better. The pandemic emergency has conferred a license to experiment on a global scale which defines the word “unprecedented” so often used over the past few years. We have invited innovation and piloted new approaches at warp speed as we built our capabilities to cope with COVID and vaccinate against it. However, some commentators at the Conference wonder just how long this license to transform will remain open after the key threats of the pandemic are past. And what lessons should we embed in our economic development approaches going forward to build-in resiliency to cope with future shocks – whether they be health, climate or geo-political?

For southern Vancouver Island, there is a real opportunity to strengthen our resilience in this respect. Carol Anne Hilton introduced many to “Indigenomics” – an approach to economic reconciliation with First Nations that no longer isolates them from the economy but builds them into the new economic fabric. The Indigenomics Institute that she leads is committed to increasing the visibility, role, and responsibility of the emerging modern Indigenous economy and the people involved.  Her co-panellist Christina Clarke outline some of the initiatives underway in the recently launched Indigenous Prosperity Centre to achieve this goal on the ground in the South Island. The pandemic has underscored the fact that workers in the global innovation economy can, in fact, live and work anywhere. Place matters – and with our clear quality of life advantage, this presents a great opportunity for our region to place itself at the forefront in attracting talent and investment.  However, how can municipal leaders reap this dividend and diversify our economy while preserving vital city centres in an emerging work-from-home culture.

Conference discussion turned to identifying the key levers that local governments have within their control to enable such approaches to economic development.

Panelists Mary K Rowe of the Canadian Urban Institute and SIPP’s Founding CEO Emilie de Rosenroll offered several ideas including:

  • Enabling an open and inviting business environment
  • Taking a more deliberative approach about what type of economic development municipalities want and then building support clusters around it that will allow it to flourish
  • Investing in local business improvement organizations
  • Taking care to maintain anchor tenants on main streets –  such as municipal libraries.

In the evening’s keynote address, Thomas Homer-Dixon encouraged us to rethink what we mean by prosperity in a world racked by ‘polycrises’.  Drawing from his recent bestseller, Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril, Homer-Dixon focussed heavily on the urgent, collective need to address the climate emergency. He argued that prosperity will require a new level of resilience to cope with intensifying occurrences of heat, drought, storm, fire and smoke that climate change is delivering. How communities harden themselves to these stresses will define their resilience. He advocated a broader definition of prosperity in this regard – one that is not singularly founded on wealth creation and GDP growth but also includes other core pillars such as:

  • Security against threats;
  • Opportunities to flourish;
  • Justice – and a commitment to fairness, equity;  and
  • Fostering a community identity that brings us together to commit to the common weal and work on common problems.

The Rising Economy conference invites our local leaders to RISE to the challenges of building a new economy which is resilient, innovative, sustainable, and equitable. Day One has set the table for what promises to be a most interesting exploration of ideas and experiments over the next two days.