In these days of economic turmoil, it is difficult to devise initiatives that would help boost our local economy. Certainly, the efforts of Salmon Arm and the CSRD economic development agencies to promote our region as a wonderful place to live and work can help to attract new businesses. However, there just are not that many businesses these days that are looking for a new community to build a manufacturing facility or set up a new office. Something else is needed that is different from what other communities are doing.
Perhaps the best, and most unique initiative currently underway is the downtown campus project being spearheaded by a coalition of organizations under the direction of the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society. Certainly, an improved and enlarged college could provide a sustainable, economic boost that would produce dividends for many decades. On of the best examples is in Kamloops, where the once college and now university has become a major economic driver for the city as it continues to expand and attract students from across Canada and around the world.
The best focus for the proposed new college would be arts and culture as that would tie into our already very successful image of our community as the host of the Roots and Blues Festival. The inclusion of a performing arts centre within the campus would provide a venue for a wide variety of cultural events, including symphonies, large-scale musicals, concerts by famous performers, and even our very popular student music festival relies on churches and small halls. And there is already a demand for another good arts school in British Columbia, as Capilano College regularly receives many more applicants than the number of openings available each year.
A downtown campus would also provide opportunities for lifelong learning, which in turn would help attract yet more retirees to settle here. An improved college would help retain local secondary school graduates and it could result in numerous spin-offs such as research facilities and businesses that cater to students. Another focus for the proposed campus could be agriculture, which would tie into this region’s rich agricultural heritage. If the agricultural component were to focus on organic farming, it could likely attract many students to this burgeoning field.
While there is reluctance on the part of Shuswap’s two economic development agencies to focus on the increasing role that seniors have in our local economy, it would only make sense to build on what is happening. A good example is Logan Lake, a community that was close to dying when local mines shut down. When the price of homes hit an all time low, seniors bought in to the community and now it is flourishing once again.
Efforts could be made in Alberta and the lower mainland to promote the Shuswap as B.C.’s best place to retire. Improving amenities that attract retirees could also help along with improving services in outlying communities. The economic impact that retirement is having in the Shuswap is not new. This area’s most comprehensive economic analysis, Shuswap Clusters, was done back in1996 and showed that even then, retirement accounted for nearly 30 percent of this region’s gross profits.
Another good approach to improving the economy would be to foster more value-added production. This term usually applies to the forest industry, where timber is most often converted to lower value lumber and pulp chips or just exported as raw logs. Manufacturing value-added products such as furniture, toys, doors and windows, beams, mouldings and cabinets increases the number of jobs and profits for communities. One example of a unique value-added product is the button plant on Vancouver Island that uses alder branches found in waste piles to be burned.
And value-added can also apply to other sectors, especially agriculture. We already see this happening in the Shuswap with wineries, cheese manufacturing and other products. A good example is garlic, which can be dried and sold in grinders with additional spices and herbs.
In order for outlying communities to attract more home-based business, more services must be provided. Many rural residential areas are still without high speed internet which is key to the success for many of these businesses.
An excellent overall concept to guide economic development would be to foster innovation and unique design and a good place to start would be to improve Salmon Arm’s industrial park. Many of the products used now were not even thought about just a decade ago. If a new product or design could be developed here that becomes sought after, it could provide our region with a much-needed boost and could help promote the Shuswap to a much wider audience, which it so deserves.
When jobs are scarce, there can be the option of starting one’s own business. There is an adviser named Steve Miller, in Salmon Arm who works to help people turn their passions into a business. To learn more about this service, visit his website called Implicit Solutions. Another Salmon Arm company, called Technology Brewing, is all about technology and innovation. With an office downtown and a testing lab in the Industrial Park, this company assists businesses and individuals with developing new ideas into profitable products. Learn more at their website, Technology Brewing.
Although Shuswap’s economic development agencies remain opposed to branding the Shuswap as a retirement community, there are working to improve other aspects of the economy through a Business Retention & Expansion Program (BR&E) designed to assist existing companies to expand.