If you take wineries and grape growing out of the equation, agriculture is no longer a major economic driver for the South Okanagan.
Growing peaches, apples and other fruit once dominated the local economy, but in a report on industry clusters delivered to Penticton city council this week, it accounts for less than one per cent of the jobs in Penticton.
“I don’t see a cluster here for our fruit industry. I know it is declining rapidly year after year because of the wine industry. Where would it fit in here and how important is it in the future?” asked Mayor John Vassilaki.
Hugh McLelland, who authored the report said there was a smaller dot on the chart representing the fruit industry.
“It is very small. There is a little one that is less than one per cent and it is called traditional agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting,” said McLelland. “Growing grapes is agriculture, but it was decided that viticulture should be included as part of the cluster that includes wine, beer and spirit production.”
Fruit and agriculture have potential, McLelland said, in attracting value-added businesses.
“The largest value-added agriculture factor we have is marijuana,” said McLelland, adding there is also growth potential for the fruit industry in extracting nutriceuticals.
Penticton is home to over 3,000 businesses. Identifying industry clusters and that have the greatest existing or potential effect on the Penticton economy is the first step in identifying where the city should be focusing on economic development resources.
“We need to be able to find ways to verify and substantiate the support the city is giving in various sectors. The city doesn’t have endless resources,” said McLelland.
Wine, beer and spirits account for about five per cent of jobs in Penticton, according to the report. The biggest cluster, with primarily local customers and sales, is retail services at 19 per cent, followed closely by business, finance and management at 14 per cent.
Looking at industries that primarily draw external customers and sales, the top cluster is tourism, events, arts and culture (including the SOEC), accounting for 14 per cent of jobs.
“One of the major attractions for Penticton is our amenities for people. It is the beaches, it is the lack of traffic, it is the small city and yet there is one of everything. There is a tremendous human scale that is very attractive for Penticton,” said McLelland.
Other factors like convenient transportation links, costs and closeness to the U.S. border are also responsible for drawing and keeping businesses, he added.
“Those are the factors that keep coming back,” said McLelland. “It is very clear there are a lot of businesses that are here because they like it here, not because it is the best place for them to be economically. That is something the city should be looking at.’
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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