Big Idea No. 5 : Local ownership

This article is part of a series that explores Five Big Ideas for economic development in the Cowichan region.

Does local ownership of the economy matter?

Should our regional economic development efforts demonstrate a preference for local businesses based in the community over outside investors and big corporations headquartered in distant commercial centres?

There is growing evidence that local businesses re-circulate a greater percentage of their profits in the community, create more local jobs, and are more likely to buy local products and services.

A recent study on the British Columbia economy conducted by Civic Economics – an organization that analyzes the economic impact of buying locally – concluded that local businesses generate twice as much local economic activity as their chain competitors, and re-circulate more than two-and-a-half times as much revenue in the local economy. At an industry level, it found the "multiplier effect" was greater with both local retailers and restaurants.

Additionally, the study estimated that increasing local purchasing by 10 per cent across the province could create an additional 31,000 jobs and $940 million in wages for working people.

The Civic Economics report followed more than a dozen other similar studies on the impacts of buying locally in U.S. communities such as Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans – all of which consistently found evidence that local businesses produce greater economic benefits compared to chains.

Various other studies have reached similar conclusions.

For example, a recent study by Michael Shuman – who teaches at Simon Fraser University and is one of North America’s leading experts on community economic development – focused on food production in Northeast Ohio.

Shuman concluded that a 25 per cent shift to meet local demand for food with local production could create 27,664 new jobs, provide work for about one in eight unemployed people, increase annual regional output by $4.2 billion and expand state and local tax collections by $126 million.

Unfortunately, local governments across Canada and the United States have not made local ownership a priority, and in fact often encourage the opposite.

In much of North America, the prevailing approach to regional economic development tends to concentrate on attracting and retaining outside businesses – an approach that often leads to a focus on big corporations at the expense of local business.

"What’s weird about [the attract and retain approach] is that you cannot attract local business," argues Shuman. "That’s an oxymoron. And if the only way you can retain a local business is by bribing it not to seek, say, one more percentage point of return in China, how local is that business really? The entire focus of economic development has become non-local business."

As was pointed out by Dale Wheeldon of the BC Economic Development Association in a recent workshop with the Cowichan Valley Regional District board, global corporations are adroit at moving to a new location as soon as the benefits that attracted them to their current location have expired.

So what is the solution?

At the CVRD our economic development function is currently under review, and a shift in direction may be on the horizon.

Why not make encouraging local ownership part of Economic Development Cowichan’s mandate?

A good place to start may be in better analyzing our local economy and determining which sectors could benefit most from greater local ownership and production. For example, many communities have developed strategies to "plug the leaks," reduce their reliance on imported goods and services, and keep money re-circulating in the economy in order to generate more economic activity.

As was pointed out in the previous installments of this economic development series, encouraging co-operatives, leveraging our anchor institutions, promoting community investment funds and coordinating small business supports could all play an important role in expanding our local businesses, creating meaningful employment and building a more prosperous local economy where no one is left behind.

In this age of sharp income inequality, scarcity of good jobs and growing environmental concerns, economic development is undergoing a profound shift in communities across the world. Local governments are playing an increasingly important role, and are developing innovative tools.

This could be a perfect opportunity for the CVRD’s newly elected board of directors to act boldly and set a new direction. By shifting its strategic priorities and retooling existing programming, the CVRD could one day become a model in community economic development not just for Vancouver Island, but also for British Columbia as a whole.

Rob Douglas is a councillor for the Municipality of North Cowichan and director for the CVRD. Roger Hart is a member of the CVRD’s Economic Development and Environment commissions. The views expressed here are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the CVRD, its commissions or the Municipality of North Cowichan.

Just Posted

From left: Thomas Kuecks, David Lane, John Ivison, Denis Berger, Rod Gray, and James Kuecks are Cabin Fever. Catch their performance on the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre website. (Ashley Foot photo)
A&E column: Music Festival winners, CVAC awards, and Cabin Fever

The latest from the Cowichan Valley arts and entertainment community

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley MLA Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

BC Green Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

The city-owned lot at 361 St. Julien St., which has been home to a temporary homeless site for more than a year, will be sold and plans are to build a three-storey mixed-use development there, Peter de Verteuil, Duncan CAO explained at a recent council meeting. (File photo)
New development planned for homeless site in Duncan

Lot on St. Julien Street would see three-storey building

Historian and longtime Citizen columnist T.W. Paterson photographs the historical wreckage of a plane on Mount Benson. Paterson recently won an award from the British Columbia Historical Foundation. (Submitted)
Cowichan’s Tom W. Paterson wins award for historical writing

British Columbia Historical Federation hands Recognition Award to local writer

This electric school bus is the newest addition to the Cowichan Valley School District’s fleet. (Submitted)
Editorial: New electric school bus good place to start

Changing public transit like buses to electric really is important.

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

Most Read