I read the newspaper, both of our local ones, every week. I also read Business in Vancouver, the Vancouver Island Business Examiner and the Comox Valley Business Gazette. I like to know what is going on, and I often find very valuable information when I read these various publications.
The most recent edition of the Business Examiner had a "focus" piece on the Comox Valley. I made a point to read it as I thought it would be interesting to see what someone from outside the Valley put together about us. Part of it was an interview of Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula.
I was astounded by what I read.
"(commenting on slow / low construction starts) ...Mayor Jangula says there is still reason for optimism.
Pointing to the arrival of big-box stores like Target and Costco as well as the recent Walmart renovation and expansion, the mayor says that commercial building activity continues.
A new hospital near North Island College is expected to complete in 2017 and building has started on Buckstone, which will provide 160 new downtown housing units.
The Crown Isle Resort and Golf Community is also adding new homes to its offerings; according to Jangula, that development along with WestJet have been Courtenay's two main economic drivers for some time."
OK, ok, ok. Let's just stop the train right there (because believe it or not, there is more).
So, big-box stores are the Mayor's priority? Really? Well, I guess all of the noise he has been making about helping our downtown is just that, noise. (and he has made noise - here's an article where he makes lots of it: linky. I guess if he thinks local people aren't paying attention, he can change his tune).
Now, how about our two main economic drivers - WestJet and Crown Isle?
Let's take a look at reality, shall we?
From the Comox Valley Economic Development Society Statistical Profile from 2011, we see that the major employer in the Comox Valley is the retail sector with 13.3% of our workforce. Next in line is healthcare and social services with 10.1% of our workforce. Now, I would argue that neither of these represent economic drivers, so what major employers do?
We see that 9.3% of our workforce is in "Agriculture, forestry, fishing & hunting" - that's significant and an economic driver (and the next largest segment of the workforce). After that, we have "Accommodation & food service" at 8.9%. Hmmm - ok - a bit of WestJet and Crowne Isle are part of that...After that, construction is 8.1% and then the next actual contributer to our economy is manufacturing at 6.5% of the total workforce.
In fact, CVEDS finds our agricultural industry so important that they dedicate much of their website, and efforts, to supporting it! Not Crown Isle and not WestJet.
Way to understand the local economy there, Larry...
Next on the list - Buckstone is adding "downtown" housing units? Really? My understanding of our downtown is that it is the area around 4th, 5th and 6th Streets bounded roughly by Fitzgerald Avenue and the river. "Buckstone" (or "The Ridge" as the current phase is called) is located to the south of Courtenay, past the Wal-Mart mall...practically in Royston.
Here's a picture to show what I mean.
Well, the article continued...
""We have lots of people who live here, and work elsewhere," he said. "Without the good air travel service, this wouldn't happen."
The dilemma, however, is this: while the air connection does help to bring people to the Comox Valley is also means that young people who can't get good-paying jobs locally are heading to Alberta.
The average age of a Courtenay Resident is 50 - well above the national average - and many residents are retired or semi-retired. And, while CFB Comox is a good employer, Jangula says that people have to be in the Canadian Forces in order to benefit."
Ok. Let's examine some of the above statements. There may be some merit in the fact that people who work in Alberta and in the North may benefit from the airport, I reckon their choice to live here has something to do with our natural amenities....
Average age of a Courtenay resident? Well, according to the 2011 Census, the median age in Courtenat is 46.5. The median age in Canada? 40.6. Ok, we are a bit older, but not "well above the national average". And CFB Comox only employing CF members? Well, a quick search found that there are at least 300 civilian employees at the base...
But, the article continues!
"Other jobs in agriculture and tourism, he adds, are not as high paying as good manufacturing jobs. Since the logging industry has slowed and the mill Campbell River shut down, the high paying jobs have all but left the area.
"We'd love to have some tech jobs, or some sort of green industry or maybe a call centre - it was one of those things we were trying to lure ate one time," Jangula said.
"But...we're competing against everywhere in the world," he added. "We're a great place to live and we have lots of beautiful amentities here but the big drawback is that we don't have a lot of really good-paying jobs."
Despite the employment struggle, Jangula noted, "Construction and trades are probably our best employers [and] construction is up and we have several large housing developments."
High paying jobs aren't here? Really? I think our mayor is not really paying much attention. The last time I checked there were three major civil engineering firms in town, and a host of other engineering consultants and trust me, we don't work for peanuts.
We also have a rapidly expanding tech industry, including some major gaming company's based here...but maybe our Mayor doesn't understand that industry...
Slow logging industry? hmmm, I couldn't find any stats quickly, but there do seem to be a large number of jobs on offer right now...and I know there is still a lot of logging going on.
Green industry? I would say we have some gems of the green industry right here already. Terratek Energy solutions is based here, and a Blue carbon capture initiative was just started (although if the province abolishes the Pacifc Carbon Trust, this may be in jeapardy).
A call centre? Yup - that would bring some high paying jobs, all right...(sarcasm here people...)
And he closes with his answer for everything - want to attract high paying tech workers? Well, let's build more big-box stores and sprawling single-family home developments!!!