Costly, confused mashup of economic “strategies” ignores QB’s needs

As the old refrain goes, “it’s the economy, stupid” — though it must be said that the climate emergency is now an undeniable, universal, existential focus. Are we, the people who live and work in Qualicum Beach, being well-served by those who are tinkering with our economic future?

The multiple “strategic plans” supposedly guiding our Town’s economic decisions reveal a confused and contradictory hodgepodge of half-baked ideas that have either languished, ignored and moulding, for years or suddenly appear on centre stage out of nowhere. In the meantime, taxpayer money is being spent on hastily-conceived pet projects that are not part of the community’s plans or needs, with virtually no public input. The end result is a confusing mashup of “strategic” plans that have done little of significance to improve Qualicum Beach’s present or future, plans that are not useful to guide important decisions by QB’s Town administration or its elected representatives.

In the meantime, some serious local economic problems are being ignored. What’s going on? Let’s have a look.

Many communities feeling an economic pinch are competing to attract businesses to expand their local economy and create good-paying blue and white collar jobs. The more desperate the town, the more vulnerable it is to taking on long-term pain for short-term gain. Without a strong economic development plan, towns and cities too often find themselves making major concessions and mortgaging their futures over empty schemes and dubious business “opportunities.”

Qualicum Beach is different from the typical struggling towns and cities. Our Town coffers are not empty, at least not yet, if we learn to avoid unnecessary and wasteful expenditures. But just like every community, every business, every family and even every person, QB needs a solid plan and a navigable road map to ensure we don’t end up where we don’t want to be — out of fuel, on a dead-end road with no way out and night falling.

Our Town’s circumstances tell another good news economic story. We are more fortunate than most communities. Qualicum Beach does not have thousands, nor even hundreds, of unemployed and under-employed workers. Our large population of retirees means the Town’s aggregate income is stable, recession proof and, given the nature of QB’s primary source of income, even largely pandemic proof. Pension cheques, dividend payments and mutual fund distributions keep rolling in. Total disposable income remains relatively constant.

However, there are serious economic problems in Qualicum Beach that deserve immediate attention.

We do not have a sufficient supply of workers to provide the day-to-day services required by our current population, a situation made worse by the Town’s negligence in not ensuring an adequate supply of rental housing for low-wage workers, a problem we wrote about recently, Solving QB’s housing problem — whose job is it? Wealth inequality continues to worsen across the country, including here in Qualicum Beach, but resolving that issue is not solely or easily addressed by local economic development efforts.

The long and winding road starts here and leads… nowhere

Over a decade ago a small group of people, directed by the Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce,  gathered under the banner “Oceanside Initiatives,” and has been, in their own words, “planning for a steady, measured way to undertake economic development in the Oceanside region. The valuable research and analysis that was undertaken, allows us to make informed decisions. Consultation with our community partners is key to understanding what is important to each sector and stakeholder group, allowing us to align our priorities, and add value, without duplication of effort.”

Who gave the Parksville Chamber of Commerce the right to determine the economic development strategy for Qualicum Beach? No one; they just gave their group a name and planted their flag…

Who gave the Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce the right to determine the economic development strategy for Qualicum Beach? No one; they just gave this group a name and planted their flag, declaring themselves the “deciders” of our economic future. Then these proponents of private enterprise went looking for money to fund their ambitions — public money. In 2014, Oceanside Initiatives hired a consulting firm to help produce an Economic Development Strategy. This “strategic  plan” was promptly put on the shelf and stayed there until…

Four years later, in November 2019, much fanfare heralded the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signifying a willingness to work with the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce by the Lighthouse Country Business Association, the Parksville Downtown Business Association, the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association, and the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce in a “collaborative working agreement” that would “allow” the “2014 strategic economic plan to move forward.” (As we explain later in this article, this strategic plan wasn’t really a plan.)

The Oceanside Initiatives group wasted four years trying to persuade other regions to sign on to the Parksville Chamber’s scheme. The person in charge of this ill-fated venture, Parksville Chamber’s executive director Kim Burden, was quoted at the time as saying “the plan hasn’t been able to move forward because this step [signing an MOU] hadn’t been taken yet.” That’s hardly a ringing testimony to his leadership, ducking responsibility and implying the delay is the fault of someone else. Mr. Burden is listed as one of six members of Oceanside Initiatives’ management team directing the exercise that produced the Oceanside Initiatives’ Economic Development Strategy and also a member of the project’s “Working Group.” The only QB member of this management team was the Town’s CAO, Daniel Sailland.

Parksville Chamber plows on… seeking more public funding for more economic planning control

In early 2020, the Parksville Chamber obtained funding from the BC government’s WorkBC Community and Employers Partnership program which was used in part to fund the development of yet another “strategic plan” called A Regional Economic Development Strategy 2021 – 2025. It’s hard to tell whether it’s supposed to be a plan to implement the 2015 Economic Development Strategy previously produced by the Parksville Chamber’s Oceanside Initiatives group, or just a business plan of sorts for the continued existence of Oceanside Initiatives as a quasi-agency serving “the Oceanside region” — all the while being directly accountable to no-one (except the members of Parksville’s Chamber).

Here’s a look at the cover page, lest there be any confusion about who’s running the show, the Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce.

In October 2020, Kim Burden and Corry Hostetter, appearing as a Delegation from the “Chambers” of Commerce, first before Qualicum Beach Town Council on October 7, 2020, and two weeks later on October 19, 2020 before Parksville City Council to publicly plant the seeds for their request for $75,000 from each community for each of the next five years for economic development. They acknowledged having burned through $400,000 to date, running out of money, and needing an additional $300,000 per year to continue. We are not aware of any negotiations, deals or decisions, if any, that may have transpired behind the scenes.

Nine months later, on July 27, 2021, Burden and Hostetter (now Corry Gervais) continued their search for money appearing as a Delegation to the regular Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) Board meeting. The annual taxpayer funds desired by Oceanside Initiatives has now increased from $300,000 to $360,000 (is the annual inflation rate at Oceanside Initiatives running at over 25% ??). Gervais asked the RDN Board to commit to a contribution of $150,000 per year for 5 years. At the suggestion of RDN Director (and QB mayor) Brian Wiese, this request for funding was referred to the Oceanside Services Committee, which Wiese currently chairs, for further discussion and possible recommendations to the RDN Board.

Over the past two years, the RDN itself had considered taking a coordination role in economic development for the entire region. Until recently, the current RDN Strategic Plan included two actions: “ 6.1 – Develop a Regional Economic Development Strategy that addresses both overall regional goals as well as those of the municipal partners [like Qualicum Beach] and electoral areas.” and “ 6.2 – Review the resources required in order to coordinate business development and retention throughout the region.”

However, after the requisite workshopping and consultant’s report, the RDN Board in fall 2020 removed those actions from its strategic plan, committing instead to a devolved, hands-off goal to “continue to support initiatives that promote regional economic development and retention throughout the region.”

For context, until 2020 the RDN had operated a Northern Community [District 69] Economic Development Service, a modest grant program through which the RDN Board contributed $50,000 per year to eligible economic development initiatives that “advanced the Board’s vision for a strong, thriving and creative local economy.”

What is the Town of Qualicum Beach doing to sustain QB’s economic development?

One might wonder, in the absence of progress on district-wide collaborative economic development,  not to mention the need to chart our own course, independent of what Parksville’s Kim Burden and company might want to achieve at our expense, where is QB’s economic development plan?

The Town of Qualicum Beach has a Strategic Plan too! Its economic development “strategies” are remarkably brief (in fact, non-existent). In his March 2021 Strategic Plan Update, under the topic of Economic Development, CAO Daniel Sailland notes: “Collaborative initiative involving Chambers of Commerce, business assistance and other levels of government (e.g., Oceanside Initiatives 2.0). Update – In Progress. Wayfinding, Branding and Oceanside Initiatives are all part of the 2021 work plan.” This is a strategic plan in name only. For example, there’s nothing about increasing the labour supply or creating jobs.

Oddly though, tucked into another section of his Update, Mr. Sailland identifies costly economic development initiatives that don’t relate to any of the other “strategic” plans (each of which we examine in more detail in the next section of this article). There is no apparent connection between the Town’s Strategic Plan and any of the strategic plans that Parksville’s Chamber (Oceanside Initiatives) developed for QB. Nor has the Town of Qualicum Beach offered any meaningful public information or engagement about these new, costly and impactful new initiatives that we will be paying for and living with for years or decades in the future.

Despite this, according to Daniel Sailland, the Town of Qualicum Beach has apparently already begun to work on implementing these major new economic development initiatives, including the commitment of our tax dollars.

Nothing to show for a decade of half-baked plans

A bit of a deeper dive into each of these “strategic” plans reveals lots of documents produced and presentations delivered asking for money over the last decade, but no actual economic development results. In fact, there is a marked absence of any details about how the intentions expressed in these “strategic” plans would actually result in specific, measurable and tangible benefits being achieved. Here’s a closer look at each of these plans.

2015 Economic Development Strategy – Oceanside Initiatives (Parksville Chamber of Commerce)

The “Economic Development Strategy” that Oceanside Initiatives developed and published SIX years ago is an interesting read. This Strategy was supposed to serve the long term, sort of, including an objective that “The economic development strategy should include a concise vision statement outlining the desired future state of the economy of The Parksville Qualicum Beach Region in the year 2018.” Oops, the strategy may be past its best before date.

And, did we miss a meeting? Since when is there a “Parksville Qualicum Beach Region”? What exactly are the boundaries?

The 2015 hired consultant, Vancouver-based Wazuku Advisory Group, summarized the proposed Strategic Imperatives as shown, along with Key Performance Indicators (the KPIs in this diagram). If the strategy had worked, there was no indication in the plan what difference, if any, we as QB residents were supposed to experience in our Town by now.

Wazuku’s 18-member Economic Development Working Group apparently determined that “the most important Strategic Imperative was the establishment of a structure for the Economic Development Body for the Parksville-Qualicum Beach region.”

Skilled planners will recognize that this in fact is not a strategy — it’s merely a means to a still-undefined end.

While Oceanside Initiatives was navel-gazing its creation of a so-called Economic Development Strategy, here in Qualicum Beach the Digital Media Studio was launched in our beautifully renovated iconic train station in 2014, and Cloudhead Games established themselves as leading edge pioneers and innovators in Virtual Reality. And yet, to our surprise, in their list of 11 “desirable growth sectors,” the Oceanside Initiatives 2015 Economic Development Strategy did not even mention the digital tech sector as part of its “desired future state.”

Perhaps it was just as well that the Oceanside Initiatives 2015 “strategic plan” was put on the shelf and pretty much ignored.

2021 – 2025 Regional Economic Development Strategy:  Parksville Chamber of Commerce

According to the Parksville Chamber’s (aka Oceanside Initiatives’) latest document, A Regional Economic Development Strategy, there are now five strategic priorities:

 • Economic Infrastructure Development – “Creating an environment that works and supports regional commercial tax revenued operations funding through grants.” e.g. transit, shared warehouse

• Labour Force Development e.g. local post-secondary job training, increased job opportunities for indigenous workers

 • Business Retention, Expansion and Attraction – “Providing opportunities for youth, young entrepreures [sic], our local tourism sector, and to support municipal business licenses.”

 • Consistent Local Intelligence data “for an Annual Regional Economic Development Report and concierge service.”

• Specific, Targeted Marketing Campaigns – the first of which will be to find someone to pay for these economic development services, for which Oceanside Initiatives is asking over $300,000 per year in local taxpayer funding alone.

Near the end of the “plan” is the proposed funding strategy with half the money to come from long-term fee-for-service contracts with the City of Parksville and the Town of Qualicum Beach to the tune of $75,000 per annum each.

According to the proposed plan, “The Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce (the contractor), through its Oceanside Initiatives division, … will commission and/or undertake the following services:  Research and data analysis to produce economic reports;  Primary point of contact for new and prospective businesses; Liaise with City departments and Council to advocate for the development of policies and programs to promote business and economic development; Organize forums, roundtables, and meetings for collaboration and priority-setting; Targeted marketing and promotion efforts to attract business, under the Oceanside Initiatives brand; Provide all staff needed for the service.”

Parksville Chamber requests funding for these undefined economic development “efforts”

The well-organized presentations by Kim Burden and Corry Hostetter to QB and Parksville Councils in October 2020 noted that Oceanside Initiatives was able to awake from the four-year hibernation thanks to a grant in early 2020 from the BC government’s WorkBC Community and Employers Partnership program. One product of the grant is the Regional Economic Development Strategy 2021 – 2025 document discussed above.

Presumably some of these provincial funds also supported the Rebound Oceanside program that helped several area businesses restore at least partial operations while meeting imposed Covid safety protocols. But according to Hostetter (now Gervais) the money was going to run out by December 2020; hence the push to have their “vision incorporated into official City plans” with a “new funding and sustainability model.”

The presentation, including slides, can be seen starting at about the 12 minute mark of the Qualicum Beach meeting video. The entire presentation and discussion with QB Town Council — none of whom asked any meaningful questions — lasts only nine minutes.

For a more informative look at this same pitch to another group, we recommend viewing the Parksville Council meeting video two weeks later. The City of Parksville presentation by Hostetter and Burden, and the ensuing questions and discussion with an engaged and interested Council, runs to 35 minutes and provides a more illuminating view into the concerns of their City’s elected leadership.

For example, Councillor Greir was surprised to see budget amounts of $60,000 for General & Administration and $143,000 for Salary & Wages. “That’s half your budget,” said Greir. (It’s actually two-thirds of the proposed budget of $300,000, which has since been adjusted upwards.) Mayor Mayne pointed out the obvious need for strategies to create the prerequisite rental housing and amenities needed to attract the workers they don’t yet have, even if new jobs are created. Seems Mayor Mayne hasn’t seen the makings of a real economic development strategy from the Parksville Chamber of Commerce either.

At the Parksville meeting, Kim Burden was clear in why they were there, stating: “We would like to be a [$75,000] line item in your budget,” starting in 2021. We double-checked both Parksville’s and Qualicum Beach’s approved 2021 budget — neither contain a line item for either “Oceanside Initiatives” or “Economic Development Services.”

(Note: In navigating your way to view the Parksville meeting, note the convenient indexing and direct access to the video segment associated with each Agenda item. It is disappointing that our Town CAO chooses not to provide QB residents with a comparable level of service.)

Qualicum Beach 2021 Strategic Plan

In a previous article, we reviewed some of the ad hoc additions to CAO Daniel Sailland’s “strategic” plan for the Town — a plan that appears to be neither strategic nor belong to the Town, aka the residents of Qualicum Beach, who have had little to no say in deciding which priorities warrant the expenditure of Town staff time and taxpayer money.

As noted earlier, under the topic of Economic Development, Sailland reported: “Collaborative initiative involving Chambers of Commerce, business assistance and other levels of government (e.g., Oceanside Initiatives 2.0). Update – In Progress. Wayfinding, Branding and Oceanside Initiatives are all part of the 2021 work plan.”

Of related interest though is the very next item on his list under the topic of Municipal Landfill – “Engage land at the closed Municipal Landfill for strategic local and regional initiatives. Update – In Progress. 20 acres of land at this location have been identified for the purposes of an innovation hub focused on value added forestry, light industrial and value added agricultural. Staff are commencing a process for engaging this area for these purposes as part of the 2021 work plan.”

Hmmmm … that sounds a bit like an economic development strategy, doesn’t it? First time we’d heard of this idea. Is this another newly minted ad hoc project now on the CAO’s list of so-called strategic priorities, inserted into the plan without meaningful public engagement?

Qualicum Beach Innovation Hub (or Hubs?)

Turns out there may actually be two hub-related projects, it’s hard to tell — these projects have no visible sponsor, no business case shared with the public, and no apparent accountability for results.

QB Innovation Hub # 1 – The Island Coast Economic Trust (ICET), in a May 2020 media release announcing their $250,000 contribution to revitalization of the East Village, stated that “The improvements are expected to spur the development of new mixed-use residential and commercial spaces, a brew pub as well as an innovation hub targeting the town’s growing tech sector.”

Hmmm. I should talk to our Town’s economic development officer to get a better handle on just what this growing tech sector looks like. Oh, wait a minute, can’t do that, we don’t have an economic development officer. And, as pointed out earlier in this article, our digital tech sector isn’t even on the radar for Oceanside Initiatives, to whom we in Qualicum Beach have apparently outsourced (abandoned) our economic development effort.

QB Innovation Hub # 2 – As noted above, this second innovation hub showed up later in March 2021 in the CAO Daniel Sailland’s recently expanded laundry list of projects masquerading as the Town’s strategic plan.

According to Sailland, his plan to “engage land at the closed Municipal Landfill for strategic local and regional initiatives” is already in progress. Specifically, “20 acres of land at this location have been identified for the purposes of an innovation hub focused on value-added forestry, light industrial and value added agricultural.” [emphasis ours].

On May 13, 2021, the Town issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to contract project managers for three major projects, including the “Rural Innovation Hub that will focus on creating new space for value added light industrial, forestry and agricultural activities.”, suggesting its location would be on an even bigger footprint – 16 hectares [40 acres] of Town land – presumably at Qualicum / View Roads, near the retired landfill.

The Town Planner has submitted a report on the subject of “Rural Innovation Hub” for Council’s consideration at their September 22, 2021 Committee of the Whole meeting. See attached report below.

Are either of these Innovation Hubs mentioned, directly or indirectly, in the Town’s Official Community Plan? No. Is there any funding allocated for either of these Innovation Hub projects in the Town’s current Financial Plan / 5-year Capital Budget? Nope. Are these “hubs” even mentioned in any of the economic development plans proposed by Oceanside Initiatives? No.

Ignoring today’s reality

Meanwhile nobody seems to be tackling the urgent need to increase the labour supply to fill all the jobs that our community’s existing small businesses have already created. Qualicum Beach continues to struggle in the absence of leadership that will focus on the near-term issues directly affecting both the residents and the business owners in our town.

Related articles:

Solving QB’s housing problem — whose job is it? August 31, 2021

Wandering off course — QB’s strategic plan that isn’t April 28, 2021