Region divided over economic strategy

Directors of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen unable to agree on use for $50,000 budget

Months of workshops and discussion about a regional economic development strategy have ended with a $50,000 budget and no agreement on how to spend it.

Directors of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen had been exploring the feasibility of such a unified strategy, but couldn’t reach consensus on what such a plan should look like, only that they were tired of talking about it.

“We’re just spinning our wheels,” Tom Siddon, the director for Okanagan Falls-Kaleden, said following further discussion at the RDOS board meeting.

“There’s no point in talking about this anymore if we’re not going to do anything about it.”

So the $50,000 that was budgeted for economic development this year will instead remain available for one-off projects or a great idea that hasn’t happened yet.

“If somebody came in with a brilliant proposal that was region-wide or whatever, then we could consider some portion of that money being available,” Siddon said.

The board’s discussion was prompted by an RDOS staff request to deal with the matter. Options presented included doing nothing, giving money to non-profits that promote economic development or hiring a consultant to suggest a way forward.

Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells was the first of several directors to shoot down a plan to pay for further study.

“I don’t want to see any of my share of the money spent on consultants,” he said.

Wells urged fellow directors to instead be patient.

“Don’t think because you’ve got $10 in your pocket you’ve got to spend the damn thing,” he said.

West Bench Director Michael Brydon suggested the RDOS hire grad students who could study the area’s economy on the cheap, because the matter requires a fresh look.

“One of the issues we see in the Okanagan is we’re using (the assumption that) economic development equals tourism, and for many years I’ve been looking at this data, it’s clear that tourism’s a relatively minor player in our economic engine,” Brydon said.

“It’s well below manufacturing, for example, and no one ever says we need a manufacturing strategy, but yet it employs more people.”

Rural Oliver Director Allan Patton noted the RDOS already funds economic development through its financial support of agencies like the Okanagan Film Commission, and development of trails that attract tourists.

Regional district CAO Bill Newell said development of a region-wide economic strategy is complicated further by the fact that some member municipalities and areas already fund economic development work through outside partners.