Identify assets, create jobs: forum

First of many such meetings in B.C. takes place in Ridge

Take several movers and shakers from government and business, put them in a room in the Arts Centre Theatre for a day, give them lunch and a pep talk from a cabinet minister, and it’s hoped solid ideas for new jobs will result.

Definite deadlines ensured the first B.C. Jobs Plan forum in the province would at least have a conclusion Thursday when Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Pat Bell told participants to come up with 20 local projects that could create jobs, given the right conditions.

Then he told the group to select 10 people from the meeting and over the next two months, pare that number down to a half dozen of the most realistic projects.

“It is what I call the Mackenzie model. It has proven successful, but it has also failed,” Bell told the jobs forum.

The latter happened because a remote community couldn’t agree on its goals – although it worked the first time in Mackenzie, north of Prince George, when mills closed and jobs disappeared three years ago.

With the economy dying, business, labour and government identified three goals: re-opening the Canfor mill, finding a new owner for an idle pulp mill, and beginning construction of a new mine. All three goals were realized and the economy revived.

The model is now being replicated around the province as part of the B.C. Jobs Plan, with Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows and Mission the first location for the forum that focused on identifying key assets and goals that would spark the economy.

Bell said later that he chose the area as a pilot project because the economic development departments in each area had already formed Invest Fraser North to market the region as a single area.

He met with economic development officers from each municipality and said they impressed him because of their consistent approach.

“This one just jumped out at me as the obvious region.”

Some of the topics discussed, but not necessarily identified as goals were creating an agriculture processing facility, facilitating the Experience the Fraser project – that’s already underway and will see recreational trails on both sides of the Fraser River from Vancouver to Hope – better use of the Fraser River, and developing a green building technology centre.

Bell said successful companies focus on areas where they have a unique, competitive advantage.

He listed some of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows area’s assets as proximity to the outdoors, affordability of land, and transportation infrastructure.

“Our whole intent with this is to be able to demonstrate on the ground to people that when we combine our collective efforts, when we work collaboratively with local municipal leaders … as well as union leaders … that brings enough power to move projects over the hump and deliver them in a much more timely fashion than you would otherwise achieve.”

He said each minister has to report on what they’re doing to support the B.C. Jobs Plan.

“It is very, very focused.”

Bell said B.C. is within “striking distance” of signing a liquified natural gas agreement with Chinese companies which would produce a $6 to $10 premium per gigajoule when exporting to China.

Direct cargo flights to China also allow exports of fresh B.C. seafood so it gets to restaurants within 48 hours while B.C. lumber exports to China have jumped from 370 million board feet four years ago, to 4.5 billion board feet this year, representing about a quarter of B.C.’s production.

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