Economic gardening is not a new concept, but a group of local business advocates say it is still relatively unknown in Canada, though not in the South Okanagan.
That’s why they believe Penticton is in an ideal position to become a major centre for Canada.
Peter Haubrich, business development and innovation consultant for Okanagan College, is chair of the fledgling Canadian Centre for Business Growth.
“Our target is all of Canada but we will roll out slowly, starting in B.C. and going over the mountains,” said Haubrich, who was also founder of the Okanagan Research and Innovation Centre.
With C2BG, however, Haubrich has shifted focus from startups to what he calls “stage two” companies.
“The sweet spot for this kind of economic gardening is a stage two company, which is roughly that your business is proven, you have traction in the market, now you want to grow” said Haubrich.
The concept of helping was developed in the late 1980s after Littleton, Colo. lost a major employer and 7,000 jobs.
Chris Gibbons realized that tax breaks and other incentives can draw in new business, but companies leave when the tax breaks run out or something else better comes along.
“Everybody is competing. Why don’t we grow our own companies? Grow what you have,” said Haubrich. “Companies that are already here, have a reason to be here. They are embedded in the community, they have roots here.”
Penticton was part of a four-year pilot project which started in 2000, proving the effectiveness of the concept with 100 companies.
“The result of the pilot was that we had 70 new jobs generated, we had three new products,” said Haubrich. “We had over $4 million investments.
That included well-known companies, like Structurlam, but also smaller companies like Bead Trails.
The idea is to supply companies with the information they need to grow, which can include everything from information on new markets, industry trends, database research and a host of other services.
Su Baker of Community Futures is the research team leader for C2BG.
Because it is fairly expensive to get a program up and running, Baker said there are few similar ones.
C2BG, she explained, is an extension of the economic gardening program offered through Community Futures.
“We are wanting to expand the program. We started it originally to support businesses in the South Okanagan,” she said. “We are looking to build a partnership with Okanagan College and move it to the college and then really build a market intelligence centre, which fits with the Centre of Excellence.”