When Colleen Pennington arrived in Penticton to take up her new position as economic development officer, she was coming home, in a way.
Pennington and her husband Marcel purchased a home in Kaleden in 2008 — at the height of the price boom, she jokes — and have been looking for the situation to be right to move here ever since. In the meantime, they have been visiting regularly.
“We didn’t buy it as a vacation property, per se, because we always had the intention of coming here,” said Pennington, adding that her husband Marcel is a 1973 Penticton Secondary graduate.
“I wanted to come out here, this is the size of community I wanted to be in. We have friends here and his (her husband Marcel’s) family has been here for 40 years,” she continued. “We just needed the right things to come about. In the meantime, we’ve been coming here and enjoying the property, having lots of friends up.”
Connections figure large in Pennington’s outlook on her new job as economic development officer. Just two weeks into the job, she said she has been spending a lot of time talking to people as she prepares to develop a strategy for Penticton.
“I’ve been trying to learn about the community in a number of ways. I have boxes of files, which is kind of interesting, it gives you a historical perspective on the issues; some of them have been pervasive for years,” she said. “The second thing I have been doing is chatting with some of the key business leaders and trying to get a sense of what their perspective on business in the community is like and opportunities. Both people that are starting their businesses and those that are a bit more entrenched.”
What she has learned so far, said Pennington, is that Penticton is home to a varied economy, with everything from businesses operating in the global market, run by experienced entrepreneurs with long-term roots in the community, to people that have arrived recently to set up a new business.
“We’ve got a number of new people here, people that have come in the last couple of years and are attracted by the lifestyle of the community, but also the feel, the idea that it has that small charm, it’s not strip mall central. It’s not the same as every other community, but still has an opportunity to earn a good living,” said Pennington. “Those are the kind of people that are exciting to be around because they see the potential and they’re new, they’re here to establish their lives and their families.”
Some of the issues include developing a varied job market, both in terms of jobs for younger workers and a range of salary levels, building on the successes of events like the farmers’ market and the business friendliness of the city’s website.
“I think if you’re looking at our website, trying to find core information about our community, it isn’t as easy to find as I would like to see. We’ve looked at a number of these issues before, I can see from the records,” said Pennington. “And we have some talent gaps. We have employers that are trying to hire people in certain areas and they can’t get them.”
Pennington said her first weeks have been interesting as she tries to get a sense of what brings business people to Penticton, looking for the factors that make the community unique and different, opportunities and strengths. The end result of her information gathering, she said, will be a new economic development strategy.
“I do want to look at some of the key people and things that are happening in the industrial sector, in the tourism sector, things that are happening in our retail areas, tech sector, agricultural, wine, all of those broadly defined areas of opportunity,” said Pennington. “Pull that into a strategic plan, present it to the people that I work for, make sure it is consistent with where they want to go and frankly, get on with getting it done.”
But it’s too early, she continued, to know when that strategy will be ready.
“I don’t think I am even close to getting my arms around what the community is,” she said. “Not forever, because we don’t have forever, we need to get on with this. I am the kind of person that likes to get moving forward. For me, it is a priority to get something in place and hopefully find some short-term wins along with some medium and long-term items that build a really solid foundation.”