Castlegar steps into the future
Economic development in the city of Castlegar is taking the long view
In Castlegar, the seeds of economic development, career inspiration and opportunity are planted early and deep.
“We have a pilot coding program starting at Robson (Community) School in the near future,” said Mark Laver, Castlegar’s economic development manager. “A community volunteer will go to the elementary school and teach programming to the kids in various programming languages. That’s getting kids interested in technology at an early age, and it’s workforce development.”
Laver was hired to his position at the beginning of 2018, and he is Castlegar’s first economic development manager since 1992. Feeling the need for a unified effort, members of the business community solicited the support of the Castlegar & District Chamber of Commerce to develop and launch a three-year pilot economic development program. Funding was provided by the City, the regional district and Columbia Basin Trust. The chamber of commerce is nominally “in charge” of the program, which includes Areas I and J of the Central Kootenay region as well as the city of Castlegar.
Tammy Verigin-Burk, the executive director of the Castlegar & District Chamber of Commerce, was involved in the planning from the beginning. “We got to develop a brand-new economic development program from scratch, with direct input from local businesses,” she said.
Laver said that the collaborative efforts of the City, the chamber of commerce and visitor centre, and Destination Castlegar have established a vision and contribute energy to the economic development program. Sharing resources boosts the efficiency, extends the reach and reduces costs for all the agencies.
Laver is working with local high school students as well. A technology tour of the Lower Mainland is planned for a group of Stanley Humphries Secondary School students, where they will visit companies like EA Sports, Microsoft, Sony Imageworks and others to broaden their horizons on the types of careers that might be available to them.
“We’re accomplishing two objectives at the same time,” said Laver. “From an economic development perspective, I get to talk to some of the biggest companies in the world, and who knows—they just might want to set up a small office somewhere in the Kootenays. They can be anywhere, so why not here?”
Taking it a step further, Laver also works with Selkirk College on a number of initiatives to support workforce training and new technologies.
Keeping it real
Laver explained that the economic development plan has to fit within the bounds of Castlegar’s OCP. “If those boundaries eliminate some opportunities, that’s because the community has said it doesn’t want to go that route,” he said. “The OCP is a defined plan that’s in place to comply with the community’s wishes, which is as it should be.”
At the beginning of the program, a gap analysis identified the retail areas that are missing from Castlegar. “From that,” Laver said, “we’re focusing our efforts on specific types of businesses and not others. We’re doing a lot of outbound marketing in publications beyond the Kootenay region.”
Measuring early success
“In our uptown area there’s not a single space to rent or lease in any of the commercial areas,” Laver said. “There were plenty available 18 months ago. And downtown, we do have a few spaces available, but far fewer than we did 18 months ago.
“Without a designated economic development office, potential investors have no ready point of contact, and opportunities are missed. The success we’ve had in the last 14 months has been amazing.”