New direction for economic development in Penticton

With changes underway to how they handle economic development, Penticton will soon be on the lookout for a new economic development officer.

A change in direction was the only reason Dave Arsenault received for the sudden termination of his contract as Penticton’s economic development officer.

Dave Arsenault, who has held that post since 2009, received notice at noon Tuesday that his contract had been terminated, along with that of Calum Lloyd, research analyst for Penticton Economic Development Services. Economic Development, along with the visitor centre and tourism marketing for the city, has been in flux recently, after city council decided not to renew the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce’s contract for the three services in November.

Council instead awarded the contracts to the Penticton Business Development group, which folded in February. The tourism contracts were awarded last week to a newly formed group, Penticton and Wine Country Tourism, but economic development was left out of the package.

At an in camera meeting Monday evening, city council voted to move forward with their “change in direction” and terminate Arsenault and Lloyd’s employment. Mayor Dan Ashton explained that the contract was terminated now so that the position could be brought “in house” rather than being a contracted position under a third-party.

“We assumed the operation after the issue that took place regarding the new direction that was being proposed for visitor information and marketing. When it didn’t transpire the way it was supposed to, we stepped in. Now what we’re doing is bringing this in house,” said Ashton. “It was quite tumultuous, the turnover and the change. David has done a lot in the process of economic development and has been a professional all the way along.”

Over his four years working in the city’s interests, Arsenault was involved with a variety of programs, including helping to develop the economic incentive program as well as an entrepreneurship program for students in co-operation with the school district and Okanagan College and helping bring a new Landmark Cinema development to the city after years of negotiations and other attempts.

“It’s a pretty long list of things that I have done,” said Arsenault, who was recognized just last September by the Economic Development Association of B.C. for best practices in the delivery of services, especially in the area of expansion and retention. Prior to starting work in Penticton, he worked in small business development for 15 years.

Now, Ashton said, the city is going to take a completely different direction for economic development, starting with changing how first contact is handled with businesses and developers coming to the city. Even though the new economic development officer will be a direct employee of the city, Ashton contends they will still work at arm’s length.

“For it to work, it has to be non-political — politics have to stay out of it,” said Ashton, explaining how bringing economic development in-house will allow them to create a “one-stop shop” for opportunities and information.

“This way, we are doing our best to facilitate it, to make sure it is available. The economic development office will be right there, senior staff will be right there, mayor and council are right there,” said Ashton. “It’s a whole different way of looking at it. It’s more of a best practice, we are seeing more and more of this.”

Ashton said the city will be trying to get a new economic development officer in place as soon as possible. Gillian Kenny, the city’s human resources officer, confirmed they are working on creating a posting.

“Economic development really is a priority for the city, so they do want to have a turnaround time quite soon,” she said, adding that the process may take a month, possibly longer, depending on the candidate.

In the meantime, Ashton said it will be an open competition for the position, which would include Arsenault, should he choose to apply.