Planning Yields Success in the Comox Valley
Innovation And Technology Viewed As Target Sectors To Supplement Economy
COMOX VALLEY – Careful planning has been a hallmark of Comox Valley Economic Development Society, and the results of that foresight are visible throughout the area.
Almost two decades ago, CVEDS, also known as Invest Comox Valley, identified agriculture and aquaculture as huge opportunities for economic development. Fast-forward to today, and the Comox Valley is dotted with new land and water-based food growing operations.
Innovate 2030 is the moniker for an update for their current five-year economic development strategy, a guiding master plan that will inform policy, develop clear actions and outcomes for sustainable economic growth, and suggest key strategies and business case examples for major projects over the next decade.
This time, the future focus will be on community economic development, agri-food/seafood, and technology and innovation.
“This new strategy is intended to serve as a unifying plan, spurring action to support a sustainable and growing economy through innovation and technology,” says Invest Comox Valley CEO John Watson.
“Emerging technologies, such as automation, digitization, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are now shaping and impacting local economic development opportunities and businesses across all sectors.
“When combining these disruptive technologies, together with environmental challenges and constraints, and the changing trade environment, it is clear that a new, longer term approach to economic development is required to keep pace in planning and promoting the Comox Valley.”
An Innovate 2030 Advisory Committee, comprised of leading companies and industry associations representing a wide range of sectors and small businesses, are working towards a document that will become the guidelines to help drive long‐term technology and innovation initiatives within the community.
It will also include Community Economic Development and Agrifood/Seafood Sector Innovation strategies, but the focus on technology and innovation will be intensified.
The Innovate 2030 Advisory Committee is co‐Chaired by Deana Simkin, CVEDS Board and Executive, owner of High Tide Public House; Lara Austin, Investment Advisor, RBC Dominion Securities. The process has included numerous information and input gathering sessions, business surveys and open houses, a January 23-25 Forum, and the final update is due May 23.
“We approached it a little bit differently this time,” says CVEDS President Justin Rigsby.
“We sought out people from the local business community that wanted to be part of an advisory group, and we have around 30 members now.
“Obviously we’ve been pretty successful around aquaculture, particularly with the BC Seafood Festival, where we introduce our producers to buyers from throughout the world,” he says, adding that with a technology/innovation focus, they’ll be reaching out to organizations like Innovation Island, and others.
Rigsby noted that there is still plenty of room to growth in the agri-food sector, as recent studies showed that Comox Valley agri-food producers yield about $850 per acre in terms of economic activity.
“The Fraser Valley is something like $17,000 per acre, so we target that,” he says.
Why focus on Technology and Innovation?
Based on the Comox Valley’s Employment and Industrial Lands‐based Foreign Direct Investment Strategy completed in 2016, the technology sector was identified as a strong opportunity for growth in the region.
The BC Government has identified technology as one of the fastest growing sectors in the province. The most recent BC Stats profile of the sector shows the immense and growing impact it is having on BC’s job growth and GDP.
While much of the growth in the technology sector has been in Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna, there are 1,481 technology businesses on Vancouver Island (15% of the provincial total) and 96 in the Comox Valley, according to the BC Technology Strategy (2016).
The overarching goal is to attract and support technology initiatives within the Comox Valley while assessing the impact on key areas of growth.
Nodes in the Comox Valley
The Comox Valley was named a pilot community for the new Export Navigator Program through the province and Small Business BC, as a result of the area’s strong exporting companies.
The pilot provides new, streamlined export services designed to help and support business growth through exporting, and for those that are already exporting.
There have been a number of beneficiaries of the pilot program, including Mac’s Oysters and Wayward Distillation House.
Mac’s Oysters are known worldwide, thanks to an increased emphasis on exporting the company’s products, which are sold under several name brands – named depending on the method used to grow the oysters and the body of water where they are harvested.
Wayward produces True Craft Unruly Gin, Unruly Vodka and other spirits that are honey-based, with vodka infusions. It is the first distillery in Canada using honey as the base for all of its spirits.
The company’s website states: “Our signature Unruly Vodka and Unruly Gin are beautiful, hand-crafted examples of what can happen when unruly people meet unruly bees. Couple this with our seasonally changing, ultra-small batch experimental Wayward Order Line and you will truly understand our need to break moulds and blaze trails.
CVEDS has also developed a new Export Products Catalogue to assist companies in their pursuit of new customers and exploring new markets and international trade.
For those looking for opportunities within the Comox Valley, CVEDS has developed a new BizMap (available through www.investcomoxvalley.com) that shows exactly where development opportunities are available.
This tool has proven to be effective, as important information was ready when Anandia Laboratories was exploring options to build their new Cannabis Innovation Centre outside the very expensive lower mainland. The Town of Comox had land rezoned near the Comox Valley Airport years ago and added “cannabis” to its zoning allowances, and it was a perfect fit.
Other land is available near the Comox Valley Airport for development as well. In the southern area of the Comox Valley, Union Bay Estates (formerly known as Kensington Island Properties), is a new 346-hectare real estate development development overlooking Denman Island.
Along with a new marina, shopping and restaurants, Union Bay Estates will be home to a new community of condominium, townhome and single-family neighbourhoods.
The project involves development of mixed commercial, multi-family and single-family residential and affordable housing for a total of 2,949 new residential units. The project will be built in phases over 10-15 years, including redeveloping the Union Bay beachfront and adding two hotels and a marina.
There is always something happening at Mt. Washington Alpine Resort, where new owners, Utah-based Pacific Group Resorts Inc. purchased the ski area, which has served Vancouver Island skiers since 1979.
To the north, Saratoga Beach Estates is a 76.6 acre residential development 25 minutes north from Courtenay near Black Creek, on the only large parcel of land that is not in the agricultural reserve.
The first phase is approved for a 143 lot subdivision on 35 acres of land, and all of the underground services are now in place. Current zoning is for 1-2 acre residential lots, although plans include higher density residential in later phases.
These projects illustrate the fact that, just as the forecasting planning for the future aims at diversification, development in the Comox Valley is spread out throughout the area.