Bowen Island Municipality loves plans almost as much as it loves its committees. The island has a transportation plan; a parks plan; an island plan; a cultural plan; a community recreation plan, is working on an emergency response plan and of course, there’s the Official Community Plan (OCP). Now the island is going to get a community economic development plan.
The province announced last week that Bowen will receive nearly $100,000 for the community economic development plan through the Rural Dividend Program (Bowen isn’t technically classified as rural, so got one-time waiver to apply to this program. BIM is, however, working on getting permanent rural status). The muni says that the grant will cover 80 per cent of the costs of the two-year project, including a new part-time position.
What is it?
As a long-term guide for municipal policies and bylaws, it’s how BIM can enhance the business base on-island. Buzzwords include “sustainability,” and “resilience,” or how municipalities (and businesses) can react to whatever life throws at them while not sapping resources.
In an economic context this means looking at population growth, the island’s service needs, jobs, revenue sources and the potential for the ever-more common natural disasters (among other things).
The new staff person is also to identify potential partnerships – with businesses, organizations, First Nations and individuals (presumably economically beneficial ones).
Such a plan is part of the much-referenced OCP – mother of all municipal planning documents.
Part of the desire voiced in the OCP is to reduce the number of people commuting to the mainland for work. The OCP says that Bowen wants on-island jobs and services and services that meet islanders’ primary needs.
The grant application (for the plan) notes the tension between Bowen as a bedroom community for Vancouver and as a self-reliant community and the role of economy in such a distinction.
The grant application also observes that much of Bowen’s economic information is anecdotal. As there wasn’t business licensing until this year, business statistics and information are limited. Such plan will deliver much-needed knowledge.
Councillor Maureen Nicholson, who had a major part in putting together the grant application, said that this project will help support economic expansion and change in a way that the economic development committees (there have been several iterations of what is now the Community Economic Development Committee) haven’t been able to.
“We’ll have the time and the funding to be able to do more systematic outreach to businesses and residents asking them about the kinds of things they would like to see happen on Island,” said Nicholson. “So there’s, there’s some emphasis on potential for job creation. But there’s also just a need to get a clearer picture of what is actually done on the island at this point.”
The grant application also said that having a community economic development staff person would allow for the municipality to develop sustainable relationships with First Nations.
Why the “Community” in “community economic development?”
“Often, economic development focuses on trying to attract large employers to a community,” explained Nicholson. “So you’re bringing something from the outside and inserting it into the community, whereas community economic development is much more people focused. The resources that you actually have on the ground and how those can be enhanced.”