The South Island Prosperity Project, the new economic development agency designed to create jobs, increase senior government funding to the region and bring First Nations into the local economy, said it has laid some key groundwork nearly a year after the organization was formed.
But executive director Emilie de Rosenroll, who joined SIPP last April, said one of the group’s toughest battles remains awareness. “A lot of regions have had something like this for 20 years ... we are still having to explain the basic values of [our work] and build relationships,” she said in an interview. “We’re trying to bring everyone inside the tent.”
SIPP replaced the Greater Victoria Development Agency. It was founded by 10 of the region’s 13 municipalities — Langford, Metchosin and Sooke did not sign on — as well as a number of private companies, post-secondary institutions, industry organizations and the Songhees First Nation.
It was developed with the idea of being accountable to the region and setting broad goals and targets: job creation, increasing median income, increasing federal and provincial funding to the region, and more First Nations participation in economic development. But it has been challenged in its first year with a relatively small budget of under $570,000, and has had to change and shape some priorities to match grant prerequisites.
“It’s more challenging this year because there is so much initial investment and development cost, and we’ve had only three staff,” de Rosenroll said.
It should improve in the next year as the budget will jump to $800,000. With various grants, it could have more than $1 million in the coffers. They will also hire three more people this year.
The organization has been under some pressure to produce.
“We want to show short-term results while working on our mid- and long-term strategy, and there’s always pressure to show those in the first year,” said de Rosenroll.
“I think that’s a good thing, the goals are out there,” she said. “We have to work really hard to make sure it happens.”
De Rosenroll expects to exceed their first-year targets.
Five months into a five-year plan, SIPP has launched its flagship business connector pilot program and 11 companies are on the verge of expanding their enterprise. SIPP has developed a prosperity index to score businesses on their growth potential and established a shared mentor hub with the University of Victoria and the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council.
It also partnered with VIATEC and the Greater Victoria Chamber and will launch an “innovation station” at Victoria International Airport this month that will show visitors how Victoria has innovated and how technology and entrepreneurship have shaped the region.
Over the first year, First Nations have increased their presence in SIPP, with the Tsawout First Nation joining late last year.
That dovetailed with the organization receiving a grant to launch a series of meetings with all Greater Victoria First Nations.
“We want to understand who their champions are and what kind of economic development initiatives, priorities and challenges they are dealing with,” said de Rosenroll.
That process is expected to culminate with a roundtable from which SIPP and the First Nations hope to come up with tangible projects they will tackle.
De Rosenroll said they have deliberately kept it open-ended to ensure they are not defining processes and programs for the First Nations.
SIPP will hold a conference this month on collaboration with Ifor Williams, a speaker on the topic of economic clusters. That kind of event is part of a series of initiatives de Rosenroll hopes will help illustrate how all of the region’s sectors can collaboratively create the kind of economy it wants.