Cowichan's economic-development boss bowing out

Geoff Millar. - file
Geoff Millar.
— image credit: file

Cowichan’s economic development manager is branding himself ‘Retired.’

Geoff Millar, 67, has served notice to the Cowichan Valley Regional District — for which he helped engineer its logo brand — he aims to leave Economic Development Cowichan by September’s end.

His 14 years with the region have seen Millar help form the EDC, expand his staff, and try to grow the Warm Land’s business climate to fertilize its tax base.

“It’s just retirement time for me,” he told the News Leader Pictorial.

“I’m looking forward to getting on with the next stage in life, holiday time with my wife and doing a bit of traveling in the province, then determining what’s next on the horizon.’’

With the EDC’s budget now at $836,354, including grants, Millar called his legacy “very broad-based.”

“I like to think when I came here, the Cowichan Valley was really a group of fairly independent entities that didn’t have any strong economic development or tourism links,” said Millar, who earned $112,275 last year.

“Bringing those connections together over the past 14 years has really paid dividends for the region.”

So did the Cowichan brand.

“Our branding has really been something that’s been exciting.

“It started when I got there and continues strongly now. We have close to 200 community groups and local government using the Cowichan brand — and that extends our reach into many different areas and makes those who use it an ambassador for the valley.”

He helped promote the valley in various trade shows while commissioning studies and economic strategies.

“We have several projects under way which will continue to knit all the parts of the region together,” he said, citing regional community profiles of Cowichan’s unique areas and sub-regions.

By year’s end, those community profiles will help streamline government-funding criterion, he hoped.

“We’re looking to get a really true understanding of each of our municipal and local areas, and First Nations, so we have a clearer understanding of what we’ve got in our region.”

Understanding global-warming’s local effects falls under a climate-adaptation strategy.

“It holds great promise for us to develop the agricultural economy in the Cowichan region.”

EDC’s results, he said, are partly filtered through CVRD’s corporate strategic plan.

“We report our efforts to (regional services manager) Jacob Ellis, and he reports back to the board on all accomplishments and goals achieved,” said Millar, as some residents and politicians question the EDC’s effectiveness under his watch.

But Millar defended notions EDC studies just gather dust. “We can’t afford to do that (waste money) anymore, and it’s just not responsible.”

He cited Aquafun Spas, and the recent Chemainus Village Square Mall as tax-paying additions to Cowichan.

“A number of companies have changed hands and moved into the area through succession planning, and that brought new dollars to our region.

“We create the environment for people to want to come and live in this area. One prime reason is because they’ve experienced it by being a visitor here,’’ he said, noting Cowican’s sunny lifestyle.

“Sustainable economic growth in the region is one way to keep taxes down.”

Another is developing sub-regional visits through Tourism Cowichan.

“Overall, tourism is one big umbrella with a number of facets including marine tourism, and ecological tourism, agricultural and arts tourism.”

Still another is the movie sector blooming under Film Cowichan’s Louise McMurray.

“I’m really happy with it, and Louise is a standout. She’s really morphed it into a really strong First Nations’ connection with our Aboriginal film and arts festival.”

Meanwhile, Millar aims to stay living in Cowichan while CVRD brass finds his replacement.

“Our challenge has always been working within our budget guidelines, determined by the board, and continuing to do all the things we want to do, in the most cost-effective way.”

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