A fresh approach to boosting South Island economy

A narrow, targeted approach to economic development and a buy-in from a broad section of the community was enough to convince Emilie de Rosenroll that being the first executive director of the South Island Prosperity Project was the right move for her.

It didn’t hurt that last year she moved to Victoria and had an extensive background in economic development.

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“I couldn’t have planned this better,” said de Rosenroll, who was born in Victoria, but left as a baby.

De Rosenroll, who was named to the position Friday, has spent most of her professional life in Nova Scotia. She brings to the fledgling economic development organization — taking over from the Greater Victoria Development Agency — years of experience working with governments and economic development agencies. She also brings a fresh perspective, said Bill Bergen, chair of the SIPP board of directors.

“She’s very smart, very quick and I appreciate that. And she’s new to the Island, which is a benefit,” he said. “There are no pre-conceived notions that this can or can’t be done.”

Bergen himself is new to the Island having retired here two and a half years ago from Vancouver. “We don’t have baggage, and we don’t understand that it won’t work, we think it will work because logically it should work, all the elements are here,” he said. “We have vibrant educational institutions, it‘s the centre of government, there is funding available for the right strategy and there are the relevant resources here.”

The new regional economic development body, SIPP, came to life in February with founding partners — including most of the region’s municipalities, a number of private companies and the Songhees First Nation — signing a constitution document to establish what was then called the South Vancouver Island Economic Development Association

The organization’s intention is to be accountable to the entire region and to set broad goals to increase the number of jobs in targeted sectors, increase median household income and draw federal and provincial project funding.

“I’m a strong believer in collaboration and I probably wouldn’t have been interested if this wasn’t such a broad-based collaborative effort. I don’t think economic development can be successful unless you take that approach. I think it’s impossible actually,” said de Rosenroll.

She said having a private-sector board that demands action and accountability is a huge asset.

“The board has a very clear mandate and a five-year time frame, so it’s a very action-oriented group,” she said. “We are going to deliver results or we shouldn’t be around, that’s the ethos of the board.”

Bergen said the organization’s next task is to build an operational plan, setting clear goals.

He said what they have already decided is they do not want to be all things to all people when it comes to economic development.

Instead, they intend to be “surgical” in determining which areas and industries they should focus on that have regional relevance to the Island but may have potential global export possibilities.

Bergen said while tourism and technology have done a great job in branding and establishing their world-class credentials, they will look at others — agriculture, aerospace, marine, ship repair and ship building and ocean sciences — and see if SIPP can help them increase their economic capabilities.

“A lot of traditional economic development casts a very wide net, and that’s not the approach this group wants,” de Rosenroll said.

SIPP’s annual budget is about $650,000 based on a funding formula involving most municipalities. The formula is a

50-50 split between $1 per person in the municipality plus a percentage of total tax collected.

The organization is targeting another $400,000 annually from the private sector and other groups in order to leverage matching provincial and federal funds for projects in the order of $1.5 million per year.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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