There is no doubt that a great deal of effort went into producing the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society’s (SAEDS) five-year Economic Development Plan. However the plan misses some key opportunities that mesh with one of the main drivers of our local economy. The consultants that prepared the plan, Miller, Dickenson and Blais, reviewed data, interviewed local businesses and held planning sessions with city staff and politicians.
The plan calls for a focus on three areas of activity; skill development, support for existing and potential industries and improved service delivery. On the top of the agenda is the proposed downtown community campus, which has the potential to invigorate the economy as well as improve the community’s social and cultural milieu. Post-secondary education facilities that include advanced skills training are likely the best, most sustainable form of economic development. One only needs to look at how the Kamloops economy has improved thanks to the establishment and growth of Thompson Rivers University.
Two areas of study for the college would provide an excellent fit with key components of our community. A focus on arts and music would complement the already thriving Shuswap cultural scene and adding a performing arts centre could provide a much-needed facility for our community. An agricultural component would also integrate well and would help improve our food security.
The plan calls for physical improvements to the industrial park and the airport. Improved networking amongst the various industrial park tenants, including joint marketing initiatives and business events is also an admirable goal. No doubt, SAEDS’s comprehensive directory for the industrial park, which will soon also be online, and the already online directory of all the businesses in Salmon Arm will assist with networking and thus help enable businesses to share resources.
More support for entrepreneurship programs, such as the innovative and very successful, “Launch-a-Preneur” initiative is also part of the plan.
It is an ambitious plan that has the potential to make a huge contribution to the Shuswap, but it lacks a commonly used analysis called SWOT for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Certainly the strengths of our community include our magnificent environment, our amazing culture and arts, our agricultural and forestry resources, our growing number of recreational opportunities and our proximity to transportation corridors. Our weaknesses include the difficulties that businesses encounter in accessing investment capital and the declining number of young families due to the lack of good paying jobs. A key threat is present throughout the world, as economic growth is teetering and environmental challenges are increasing.
Rather than ignore the impact that ‘retirees’ are having on our community (the word only appears once in the plan), this trend should be considered an opportunity.
Forty percent of Salmon Arm’s income now comes from transfer payments, of which the majority includes retirement income. There is a myth that retirees provide few jobs because they spend less and often leave in the winter. Yet, a simple review of the new businesses in the city reveals a growing number of enterprises that cater to seniors, including yoga and pilates studios, gyms, chiropractors, physiotherapists, and other health and lifestyle companies.
The economic plan for Salmon Arm could benefit with an addendum that includes a strategy to build on the success that is already occurring. Marketing Salmon Arm as one of the best places in which to retire in the Interior of B.C., would likely achieve significant results in the short term. And improving the amenities that attract seniors would also help attract the businesses and industries we need to provide jobs for young families.