Economic manager urges focus on region

Economic manager urges focus on region

The South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce hosted “Coffee Connections” at Fairview Mountain Golf Course last week. Shown from left are economic development regional manager Larry Olson from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie, chamber director Brian Highley, Cher Wood from rhn accountants, chamber Executive Director Denise Blashko, and chamber director Doug Lamb. (Lyonel Doherty photo)

By Lyonel Doherty

Every community chases success in economic development, but one manager is encouraging a “regional” mindset.

“We tend to see things in a silo mentality,” said Larry Olson, a regional manager for the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.

Olson was a guest speaker at last Friday’s “Coffee Connections” hosted by the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce at Fairview Mountain Golf Course.

Olson said one of the biggest issues in economic development is that communities tend to focus on their own plans and not see the bigger regional picture.

“We’re trying to give a more regional perspective on economic development,” Olson said.

He noted that studies have shown that when communities work together on a regional basis, economic development is enhanced.

The manager said the new South Okanagan-Similkameen development group is working with different communities.

Its first initiative is a foreign investment strategy to encourage investors to look at the South Okanagan for potential business opportunities.

“The first meeting revealed that the biggest sector we can sell to foreign investors is agriculture,” Olson said.

The group’s second initiative is a job recruitment website in Penticton, an idea that is being broadened regionally.

“We want to step up the ability of companies to attract employees.”

Olson said each business will make its own video to give prospective employees a sense of what it and the area have to offer.

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Olson made it a point to commend Executive Director Denise Blashko for her work with the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce. He noted that Penticton has an economic development officer and contractors working for the city, but Blashko is one person “juggling many balls” in the South Okanagan.

Blashko said the chamber has been successful in securing a grant from the Rural Dividend Fund for a feasibility study on a business retention and expansion program for the South Okanagan.

The first stage is assessing feasibility, and once that report is complete, the chamber can apply for the next round of funding, which is for actual implementation of the program that will help local businesses improve and expand.

But Blashko said she has been fielding many calls from people raising concerns about businesses not being open in town.

“We need to pay attention to our online presence and do the best we can to stay open.”

The executive director said people are coming in to her office and saying they tried to patronize a local business but it was closed.

“We’re getting a lot of those calls . . . we need to extend our operating hours (because those nine to five days are gone).”

Blashko said businesses have to start preparing for when Area 27 opens the racetrack.

“We will have a lot of people coming in so we need to prepare for that.”

Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie said Area 27 will have a special opening event in June.

“It will probably be one of the biggest events that this area has ever seen,” he stated.