This article was originally published by Island Coastal Economic Trust in their series highlighting the work of those hired under their RECOVER Program. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. This article showcases the work of Chloe Boyle, Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) Economic Development Analyst, Sub-regional support.
“When I started, in the summer of 2021, things were starting to look up. There were a lot more tourists compared to the previous year, and local business owners and managers were really hopeful. Our focus in Economic Development Cowichan (EDC) then was really building resilience for local tourism businesses.
“There was a real divide between those able to adapt and those that couldn’t, so we wanted to target those businesses that needed help.”
One of the first tasks I worked on was an Employer Resource Guide. This was a business response to the labour shortage that was just starting in 2021, and included topics on inclusivity and diversity, technology, and best practices for hiring and retention. I developed an online resource portal that was shared the Chambers of Commerce (COC) and Business Improvement Associations (BIAs). We did our best to promote the guide, but I think the real value was the cross-over with more in-depth workshops and webinars on certain topics that were put on by other organizations.
By the time November/December rolled around, and Omicron arrived, the morale among business owners and other organizations was definitely going down. The initial hope that many communities had that things would return to normal was dashed, and at EDC we were struggling to get any engagement online. There was already so much support available – not just from EDC, but other supporting organizations as well. It just seemed that businesses weren’t accessing it.
I had heard about the great initiative of the Ladysmith Business Walks. I thought it would be valuable in some of the villages in South Cowichan, especially since we don’t have business licensing in the Regional District (which means we don’t know exactly what businesses are even located within our communities). I pivoted my efforts from developing online resources to creating a plan for multiple in-person Business Walks. The Walks were a way to go directly to the business community and see what they were struggling with and what we could do to help.
The business owners and managers seemed very surprised that someone in government wanted to listen and understand, without an agenda. For many, it was the first time anyone had come directly to them and asked what they needed. Many business owners and managers were unaware of the amount of support being provided by other organizations, like WorkBC, and the COCs. We were able to help them there by connecting the dots with the other partners, and to help provide other resources. I really pushed people to give their input on those bigger projects, like the Active Transportation Plan and Official Community Plan, as they need to have their voices heard on what is being planned over the next 10 years.
I think the Business Walks were one of the successes in my position, but I’m also proud of some of my work starting to build relationships with First Nations in the region on topics of local economic development. When I started, there was also no formal policy for how we should interact with Indigenous groups; but with economic development it’s critical that going forward we work with the Nations and reflect their interests. I’ve been trying bridge the gap by encouraging participation in larger initiatives and to do so in inclusive and respectful ways. I hope this work will catalyze more internal work within the organization.
“With economic development it’s critical that going forward we work with Nations and reflect their interests.”
Our biggest challenges have been related to varying capacity levels and staff turnovers across government agencies, community organizations and local businesses, but I realize this is not particular to communities in Cowichan. With the pandemic lasting over two years, I think a lot of the motivation of non-profits, organizers and small local businesses really faded and community members were focused more inward.
The majority of my work seems to have been on building relationships and establishing connections, which initially frustrated me as it’s not a tangible thing. I can’t say “here, I’ve done this”. But with local government, good relationships between the public, organizations, businesses and even between internal Divisions is extremely important for addressing the challenges facing communities collaboratively.