Economic Development Cowichan administrator Amy Melmock spent quite a bit of time at Lake Cowichan town council on Tuesday, Jan. 8.
Not only was she scheduled to give the recently elected council an update on what her commission has been doing lately, but she stayed and listened to the following presentation — by town planner James Van Hemert — about Lake Cowichan’s new official community plan.
Her own talk included some figures about employment in the Cowichan Valley and what might be coming up in future as ideas take shape about boosting the economy.
In 2016, when she joined Economic Development Cowichan, it had been dormant for about a year.
“There had been some major changes. They had shifted tourism out of the EDC and moved it into the Tourism Cowichan Society. There’s been a lot of debate about whether we should even have an economic development function. When I came to the organization, I was concerned about refocusing, repositioning, and also making sure there was good return on investment.
“Four years ago, there was a lot of intiatives on climate change as to how it related to food processing. We did a major study in 2014 about this. There was also interestingly enough, a clean tech study. But the recommendations kind of went latent. But there was also a strong focus on going out to trade shows in various capacities.
“Fast forward to 2019, Tourism Cowichan Society has actually tripled the revenues that are available for tourism marketing. They’re still evolving as an organization but they have really done a tremendous job in raising the revenues that are available for marketing tourism in this Valley. They should be applauded for that,” she said.
Moving tourism away from the EDC has meant that Melmock and her office can now concentrate on other areas, like tech, and manufacturing, and “looking at some of the forestry issues that are on the ground here, and looking at food processing, and film in a different way,” she added.
EDC has changed in response to the complex labour conditions in Cowichan.
“I don’t think I’ve emphasized that enough when I talk to people. Really, what we should be about in Economic Development Cowichan is trying to create better paying jobs in our region, identifying the needs of local government, and really using our resources where they’ll have the greatest impact.
”Our employment numbers went up by 3,100 people between 2011 and 2016 so we now have a labour force that is about 31,000 for the region, and 27 per cent of that growth happened in what we call the goods producing sectors, which is where the higher paying jobs are, with 73 per cent of that growth occurred in the service producing sectors.
“If you look at where the jobs are in Cowichan, retail and health care still top the list. Combined, they still make up 25 per cent of the job market here. Construction is also high, considering the residential growth in the region. That makes up almost 10 per cent of our job force. Manufacturing is a potent sector, too.”
Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting make up about five per cent of the Valley’s job force, Melmock said.
“That’s surprising to me. But what’s interesting is the concentration of jobs in companies like TimberWest, Catalyst now Paper Excellence. Those are very, very important jobs for our region. What is not reflected there is that manufacturing and other sectors spin off the forestry sector.”