Penticton city council is supporting a move by Penticton’s economic development officer to grow her department in 2015 and widen its scope.
“I think this is the most important aspect for our entire budget, important aspect for our community,” said Mayor Andrew Jakubeit. “I view this as a strategic investment.”
Council gave conditional approval Wednesday to an $803,000 economic development budget, more than double the projects $304,000 for 2014. A large portion of that will be devoted to increasing air services at Penticton Airport and supporting the Go Media conference, which will be hosted by Tourism Penticton in 2015.
The department’s base budget of $503,000, up from $284,000 in 2013 and 2014, includes more project funding and more staff, with the addition of both an intern and a sports tourism officer.
“The economic development department has been one person for two years. There are a number of very administrative tasks that need to be addressed,” said economic development officer Colleen Pennington.
“I think we have learned a lot of those lessons over the last two years. We are well positioned now to really leverage that foundational work that was done,” she said. “The time has come to make the investment in economic development.”
Pennington said it is also time to focus on sports tourism, and insure the city is attracting new events to the city. As a cost cutting measure in 2012, council opted not to renew the contract.
“I am glad to see that happening again,” said Jakubeit, commenting that Penticton has already seen success on this front with the Gran Fondo, and the Canuck’s Young Stars Classic.
“There are a lot of other developing ones,” said Jakubeit. “There is a lot of opportunity.”
While staff accounts for $223,000, another $280,000 of the budget is devoted to projects, including developing the region’s image as a biking destination and attracting another high-end hotel to Penticton.
“We do not have enough quality hotel accommodation,” said Pennington, adding that she and others have been working on the problem without success. “We need to make a hard push to address that business case and change that long-term gap in the market.”
Attracting oil field workers as new residents features strongly in the budget.
“We have gotten very good at this. We learned a tremendous amount of lessons in 2013, we executed well in 2014 and we are very focused on specific markets that respond well to our ‘why live in the north?’ message,” said Pennington. “While we would prefer to have the home-grown jobs, this is a tremendous funnel of new residents for us.”
The correction centre under construction in Oliver is not one of Pennington’s top priorities for 2015. She said they took a serious look at attracting the hundreds of workers that will be coming to staff it when it is open.
“When we did a campaign to try and figure out how to reach them, the cost of that campaign was prohibitive. They are difficult to find because of the nature of the work they do and that led us to having to use traditional media in a widespread way and that was very expensive,” said Pennington, who said that while they will continue to work on the problem, they need to find a different approach.
“We have cut the money out of the budget for that campaign and we’ll find another way to get out to that base of customers.”