Economic development multifaceted

Some groups are calling on the Town of Golden to provide economic development assistance, a function that once existed, but was dissolved after many years.

Until 2002, the Town of Golden had an economic development officer position. Shortly after, the Golden Area Community Economic Development Society was formed with annual funding from the Town of Golden and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District. The society changed its lengthy name to a shorter version, the Golden Area Initiatives (GAI).

The first manager of economic development with GAI was Jon Wilsgard (now CAO for the Town of Golden), and he recalls the dedicated and fun work the group did to promote business within the community.

Most notably, GAI for funding for and built the old visitor information centre at the top of the hill, and had it paid off within five years. In 2007, Wilsgard left GAI, and a couple of other managers were hired before the Town of Golden decided to no longer fund the group a few years ago.

“Town council came to a determination that they no longer had confidence in the office,” Wilsgard explained. “It was a political decision. It was certainly based on the perception of value and return on investment. For the amount of money going in, political perception was that it wasn’t worth it.”

The GAI was put on a one-year notice that the Town and the regional district would be pulling the funding from the group. The three-person operation came to an end, and steps were put in motion to officially dissolve the organization.

With current issues Golden is facing today, including a lack of employees and a housing crunch, the Kicking Horse Country Chamber of Commerce is advocating to reinstate an economic development position under the Town of Golden.

“This recent labour shortage, in tandem with, a bit less so, but the housing crisis in Golden, has been a topic of discussion at the board table for the Chamber of Commerce because it has obvious impacts on our membership and business’ abilities to operate here in Golden,” said chamber president Magi Scallion.

The Chamber of Commerce put forward an advocacy letter to the Town of Golden, which was presented at town council, to reestablish the economic development function in town.

The Chamber of Commerce is focusing on business retention and attraction, job creation, and labour shortages, Scallion said. The executive director has been tasked with preparing a report for suggested use of funding, that could be taken from the Economic Opportunity Fund.

“We’re starting work on it right away so hopefully it becomes an election issue,” Scallion said. “Right now, if you look at the concerns, it is housing, labour shortages, etc. All of those issues could be addressed by an economic development role.”

Having an economic development function in a town of Golden’s size is a rarity, explained Wilsgard.

“It can be very beneficial for a community. There are different models out there for the function,” he said.

In other towns, economic development can be achieved as a municipal employee function, it could be through a separate third-party society, or a corporation that is on its own.

“It is a very difficult arena to get into in terms of defining what it is that the function is responsible for, and managing the expectations of the public and the authorities around it as to what’s realistic,” Wilsgard explained. “The terminology is community economic development, and that is over a span of time making small differences in the community that make it a better place to live. That could be nurturing relationships and creating relationships between organizations that have never talked to each other, and creating efficiencies and new ideas that they form and they spread.”

Wilsgard is concerned that creating an economic development position that will cost taxpayer money might not solve the issues in Golden.

“The solution to the problem isn’t necessarily spending $100,000 to $150,000 of taxpayers’ money a year on a function that may or may not be able to do that,” he said. “If it doesn’t fix it, then what?”

The Chamber of Commerce hopes an economic development role could help build bonds and liaise between community groups that could benefit each other. The job, Scallion explained, could be to pull different groups together, and could evolve as time goes on.

It’s an expensive endeavour,” Wilsgard said. “I’m not entirely convinced that the Town of Golden needs an economic development officer right now.”

There are many questions the Chamber of Commerce would like answered, and the executive director will continue to prepare a report based on what types of businesses are needed to support local workers, and how to maintain the qualities Golden already has.

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