On behalf of our growing team at the South Island Prosperity Partnership, I’m delighted to announce I’ve taken on a new role as Executive Director, Community Economies. Now that we’ve properly set up the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST) and have a full time Executive Director in place, this also ends my secondment as COO, though I will still be supporting both COAST and the Indigenous Prosperity Centre (IPC). These two arms of SIPP remain fundamental to our constitutional purpose.
In this blog post, I thought I’d take a moment to explain the origin of this new role and what it means for our region. But before I get into “community economies”, we need to touch on something I’ve asserted in the past (and I know I’m a broken record on this point by now!).In order to explore community economies, we need to understand regional economies. And Greater Victoria is indeed a regional economy.
A regional economy simply means that economic behaviours function seamlessly across jurisdiction boundaries. In our region, residents live, work and play harmoniously between and among different municipal jurisdictions.
This is particularly true when you consider:
1. Household incomes: Where members of a household derive their income from or where they find opportunities for career advancement may be in a different municipality than where they live. Having access to employment opportunities within a vibrant metropolitan area makes for much more stable households, especially as their children pursue careers here too, and can hopefully stay here if they choose to.
2. Service access: A regional economy means we can eat at our favourite restaurant, rent a kayak, take our dog to the groomers and pick up some fresh bread on the way home—all in different municipalities if it were the case. Plus, I’m not sure how viable it would be to have 13 hospitals, 13 airports, or 13 major sports arenas in the region either.
Our regional economy is fluid and dynamic, and that’s a good thing that benefits us all. Now that we’re on the same page, let’s explore community economies.
Interdependent Yet Unique
Our metropolitan region is made up of many diverse and unique communities, neighbourhoods and places–from the serene beauty of Sooke and the walkable downtown of Sidney, to the culinary excellence of downtown Victoria and the world-class technology companies along Central Saanich’s Keating Business District — and everything in between.
This tapestry of places is what makes the regional economic picture complete. Only when weaved together can the value proposition of each place come to fruition. They are interdependent on each other and are stronger together — but each place unique.
Strong Communities Rest on Strong Community Economies
The importance of the term community economies was highlighted to us through a recent experience as one of five participating places in a national pilot project (2021-2022) assembled by Zita Cobb and the Shorefast Foundation, in partnership with the Canadian Urban Institute, the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University, and the Community Foundations of Canada (including the Victoria Foundation).
The pilot was designed around the question of “How do we strengthen community economies?”
The group brought together academics, philanthropic organizations, consultants, financial experts, economic development leaders, and GIS mapping practitioners into a peer learning network focused on the five places (in addition to Greater Victoria, the participants included Hamilton, London, Prince Edward County, and Fogo Island).
The resulting report from this process can be found here, but in summary, this new position at SIPP is our response to this call to action that our place-based economies not only need to be nurtured deliberately, but that SIPP can play a more active role in supporting local efforts.
“A regional economy simply means that economic behaviours function seamlessly across jurisdiction boundaries. In our region, residents live, work and play harmoniously between and among different municipal jurisdictions.”
Achieving Resilience and Sustainability
Here are some principles that can help us achieve long-term resilience and sustainability within these local economies:
– Make data-informed decisions. This means generating data and evidence to better understand the local context, values (and response) to strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
– Attract and retain financial capital. This implies that local ownership and increased equity is ideal but that there are gaps in achieving this local control that need to be addressed over time–especially when it comes to business succession.
– Build local capacity. To address gaps, we need skills and experience that are not always available locally. This means training, working together and developing adaptive tools to help us along the way.
– Create architectures for collaboration. None of this can be achieved working in silos. SIPP represents a fundamental truth about local economic systems, which is: we are better together–even when competing. Let’s embrace competition as we pursue a better future for us all.
SIPP was one of 5 participants in a national pilot project that explored how communities can respond to external forces such as globalization and climate change. The final report is available here.
Convening to Collaborate
In this new role as Executive Director of Community Economies, there are new formal ways of convening the leaders that make up our regional tapestry.
SIPP’s Municipal Partners Committee, where our elected-level representatives collaborate with us (and each other) will be key to this. This fall we’ll be preparing for a collaborative dialogue around “Local Leadership Day” aimed at prioritizing key economic issues that we can work on collaboratively through various levels of actions.
Several municipalities now have economic development leads in place. This is a historical achievement for our region. I recall several years ago when I was the only practitioner in the region working in the economic development space—prior to SIPP’s inception in 2016. Now we have economic development staff in Sooke, Langford, Esquimalt, Saanich, Victoria and most recently in Sidney. Many First Nations have strong economic development mandates as well and they collaborate with SIPP primarily through the Indigenous Prosperity Centre.
Lastly, we’ll be working to co-develop tools that can help us achieve the above. Data-platforms, mapping and visualization exercises, business and talent recruitment platforms, community profiles, and continuation of our annual flagship Rising Economy conference (entering its 4th iteration on March 6-8, 2024) are all part of this dialogue and evolving toolbox.
Solutions to economic issues can only be pursued collaboratively. As shown by SIPP’s membership composition, this collaborative structure is an appropriate platform through which local stakeholders can address issues by working together.
Building the Future
I look forward to updating you all as this work unfolds, but for now, let’s get back to work on building the future regional economy that we all want; one made up of a tapestry of community economies that are resilient, innovative, sustainable and equitable.