Amy Melmock has her sights firmly set on making the Cowichan Valley’s economy the best it can be.
Melmock, the economic development manager for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, and her team have developed a four-year strategic plan for the Valley.
She said the plan was created after more than a year of meetings and discussions with businesses and those who have a stake in economic development in the region.
The plan includes five goals that Melmock and Economic Development Cowichan plan to work hard to achieve during the next four years.
She said one of the goals is to provide opportunities for people to communicate their business stories to the public.
The development of the new website www.ecdevcowichan.com that includes celebrating innovative community and business leaders in the region is one strategy to achieve that goal.
“We’ve heard that the Valley’s success stories are not being heard, so that will be the main focus of the new website, as well as informing the community what we do,” Melmock said.
“We’ll also be sponsoring forums to keep a dialogue open as to what’s happening in the Valley’s economic community.”
Melmock said business retention, attraction and expansion in the region is another of the goals in the four-year plan.
“Retaining local businesses and providing assistance and support to those who want to expand, or set up new businesses here, is one of the main pillars of economic development,” she said.
“We have a food-processing industry here, which includes such firms as Libre Naturals, but there are ways to explore to expand that sector. We’re already a centre for small-scale farming and we need to see to it that opportunities for more specialty products are developed.”
Melmock said one of the largest issues in the Valley is the availability of industrial land.
She said the industrial land base, including the Koksilah and Chemainus industrial parks, are almost full so more locations need to be identified for industrial purposes.
“We plan to launch a strategy to deal with this issue in March,” Melmock said.
“There’s a lot of competition for land in the area.”
Melmock said sector development is also crucial to the Valley’s economic future, including the technology industry which is seeing much growth in nearby jurisdictions in recent years.
She said that with some funding from the Island Coastal Economic Trust, a study was recently conducted of technology firms and companies in the Valley.
Melmock said the study found that the business people setting up these companies are excited to be in the Valley, but are largely isolated from one another.
“We discovered that most of these people set up here because of family connections or they just found that they like the area, but not usually because of any fabulous support for technology businesses here,” she said.
“We have a role to help them with skills development, providing infrastructure and helping them to access other technical companies in the Valley and the Island.”
Another goal of the four-year plan is to “strengthen communities” in the Valley.
Melmock said there are numerous economic and business opportunities that are not being realized here.
She said she and her team will be hosting meetings with the business communities in each part of the Valley to develop strategies to economically enhance each region.
“The more cohesive our areas are, the more engaged the businesses are and the more likely that people will want to gravitate to these areas to set up new businesses,”Melmock said.
Melmock said the last goal in the plan is to align her and the EDC’s work with the CVRD’s strategic activities.
That includes helping the CVRD develop its Cowichan 2050 Project, a regional, integrated planning strategy that is intended to create a new level of consultation and collaboration between local governments and communities in the region.
“We also think we need to explore business licences in the regional district,” Melmock said.
“No business licences are required in unincorporated areas in the CVRD and that may be good for some people, but it also means we have no way to pull information to determine what businesses there are in any area.”
Melmock said another priority is to strengthen the CVRD’s ties with local First Nations.
“That’s also important from an economic development point of view,” she said.