Create the jobs that will keep the kids at home

You can always tell when it’s Christmas in Cowichan.

It’s all the sightings of monster pickup trucks with Alberta plates. It’s not an invasion, just the kids coming home for the holidays.

I can understand the attraction for high-paying jobs taking our youth from the valley; relocation for work has been the Canadian way for generations. That is how I got here.

But what about the young people who don’t want to leave the island, their community, family, or friends?

Two of my own reside off-island — one in Alberta’s working north. It worries me as my other children, who still call Cowichan home, struggle with limited employment and no benefits, or are unable to find work at all.

I have watched the valley’s economic development for more than 25 years, starting in 1986 when economic development was by luck of the draw.

Today with a fully-fledged, large-budgeted Economic Development Commission, economic development is still generally luck of the draw.

I receive the EDC newsletter on a regular basis and notice a consistent focus on a very small cross-section of what we have to offer in Cowichan.

Why are we not promoting or stimulating other economic sectors that deserve support? Why are we not aggressively exploring new and innovative ways to attract business or investors? Is there a plan or are we flying by the seat of unexpected circumstance?

In my council time I met many who were dissatisfied with the service provided by local governments and in particular, the EDC. Newcomers and locals alike continue to report that, when trying to establish businesses or build new projects, they still struggle with the bureaucracies and the four neighbouring region’s differing regulations.

I also see the split city of Duncan/North Cowichan having a detrimental effect on economic growth as they compete with each other for new business and development.

An example is North Cowichan’s recently announced reduction or elimination of development cost charges for the urban area. This came as a surprise to Duncan and will have a negative impact on development opportunities in the city.

Downtown Duncan is the centre of Cowichan but still struggles with vacancies and empty lots. Downtown’s appearance continues to improve but many storefronts do not make it past the first six months or are surviving by a thread.

The survival rate would surely be higher with strong retail neighbours. Perhaps the Mayor could go shopping for new and exciting businesses to come to Duncan instead of waiting for them to appear downtown. I am certain enticements could be found.

How about a Lee Valley store? I bet that would bring the homebodies home!

Attracting big box stores that offer part-time minimum wage employment keeps people poor and provides no social protection. This drives employees to shop in the same store they work, to take advantage of employee discounts thus furthering the poverty spiral.

We need to challenge our community to start thinking toward the future and exploring new opportunities that will create economic development, employment and generate community wealth for years to come.

We have the greatest minds already here, lets use them.

It’s personal for me. I want to spend my later years with my grandchildren swarming over me instead of speaking to me on Skype.

Paul Fletcher is former Duncan city councillor who writes monthly in the News Leader Pictorial.

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