To cap our continuing coverage of Putting BC To Work, we’re asking how can we make Metro Vancouver more prosperous? How can we make sure that the people who live here and the businesses that employ people here all have what they need? Well that’s the purpose of something called the Regional Prosperity Initiative.
We caught up with Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore to try and get a better handle on what exactly the initiative is.
Greg Moore: Thanks for having me!
Simi: So what’s the purpose of something like this?
Greg Moore: So what we looked at in Metro Vancouver is we looked at how are we all working together. Not just local government, but local governments businesses, academia, unions… Everybody’s that kind of participating in the livability of this region. And then we compare ourselves to other metropolitan areas, and we realize that there is no sort of group or organization that’s setting the table, bringing everybody together, to look at how we can make sure we can continue to have this reason so livable, but also tackle some of those multi-jurisdictional issues that we’re dealing with year to year… and how can we do better in doing that.
Simi: Okay, so what are we missing? What are we not doing that we need to be doing?
Greg Moore: [At the Regional Prosperity Summit] we had a session [where] we brought up the CEO of metro Denver, which is a regional Prosperity or Economic Development organization that brings together their 33 local government, as well as the business community and the university, to deal with everything from transit and transportation and the importance of that or affordability… they’ve been going for 30 years that’s a lot of experience… they had a big vacant office with 31% of our offices were vacant because of a downturn in the economy and they came together to figure out how they can do economic development to get those jobs back. So there’s lots of examples around why working together with all of these different people that have all these different roles in our society [work to] prosper the whole region.
Simi: So is this the kind of thing that you have to plan for because it doesn’t have organically?
Greg Moore: One of the things that we learn from almost every other area… I’ll use Seattle as an example… it usually happens because something dramatic happens in the economy, some big downturn happens. So in Seattle, again a multi-jurisdictional area, things are going pretty good and then Boeing made announcement 25 years ago that they’re going to leave town. They had that ‘holy- cow-we–got-to–get- together’ moment. In Denver they had a few: things they had a smog issue; they have Coors, which was a major employer, leave; as well as there is a downturn in the petroleum sector and that’s what led to all the local governments and businesses getting together and saying ‘we gotta do something to help get our economy back on track’. So things seem to be going pretty good here, I think people feel pretty good about the economy and where we’re going but there’s a lot of things that are, you know, if we go too far in one direction, you know, whether it’s affordability or transit and transportation and that all the sudden could take us into that crisis moment. So what we’re looking at is how can we be more proactive to prevent those things from happening and growing what we have already.
Simi: Now, you heard from a lot of business people as well who were at this summit. What did they tell you? Are there things that they are happy about?
Greg Moore: Well first they were very enthusiastic about bringing all of these groups together and working together to help fall of us to continue this livable region that we have. They agreed that it’s not just about economic development, it’s also about other things, you know, affordability, housing costs, transportation that affect all of their businesses whether they’re recruiting employees here or there trying to retain their current employees. Some of the stuff that they said we could do better in the short term is… business when they’re locating here, they don’t really look at municipal boundaries that much, they just look at the region. So, one: how are we promoting the region, how are we making it easy for businesses that want to relocate here get all the information that they need, whether it’s regulations, or fees, or taxes or employment data. They don’t care where it is, they just want it easily and we don’t do that very well right now.
And secondly, how can we make the regulatory environment more seamless? So, if you’re going to get a building permit in Port Coquitlam or a building permit in Burnaby, can we start to make those systems similar so it makes it easy to get a building up and running?
Simi: Can we?
Greg Moore: Yeah I think so. We have some examples! Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey, Delta and I think a few others have a mobile business license now. We have one in the Tri-Cities with all the Tri Cities. One of the things that we should do next is have a mobile business license for the whole region. So a contractor doesn’t have to go and get 6 or 7 different business licenses from around the region. They could go to one city hall and get a business license for the whole region. That helps time and that helps business.
Simi: So, we can do this all regionally, right? We can have these discussion, but at some point for things like infrastructure, livability and affordability, don’t you need to have the province at the table?
Greg Moore: Absolutely! The province plays a key role in the economy and to attracting businesses and they should be a part of the discussions going forward. We’re trying to lay out, as the leaders here from Metro Vancouver and our local governments with the business community, what that might look like and how we can structure something so that we are working together to either influence decisions or highlight decision changes that need to occur or that we need to attract different investment so that we could continue our growth.
Simi: So it sounds like we have a lot of work to do.
Greg Moore: We do, and that was the other thing that kind of came out of it. Martha Piper from UBC was one of our speakers and she agreed with some of the other business folks that there was a sense of urgency, that we really need to work relatively quick to pull something together and put it work plan in place so that we can start to deliver on some of these actions and get everybody sitting around the table to figure out what we need to do, whether it’s economic development and presenting the regions of the world, or solving some of the problems we have in our own backyard so that we could make our businesses more successful, expand, and employ more people and we can understand the effects of how working together will be beneficial to all of our residents.