Young: Need for economic development change

“Disruption breeds change” could be a mantra for those of us who are growing weary asking question after question about the environmental elements in our daily life that both confuse and test our intellect.

Living in West Kelowna and being quite pleased with myself for selecting this location for my wife and I after much deliberation and examination, I have found myself joyous on the one hand for our accreditation as a provincial new municipality and on the other, finding myself concerned developers, leasing agents and property managers seem to be missing the boat when it comes to bringing a mix of logical, practical retailers to the area.

The retailers we need  go beyond the “big box” syndrome we find ourselves mired in. We need to focus on independent retailers, such as home décor and comfort food restaurants to name a few.

Do you realize that video rental stores are gone, replaced by a cadre of dollar stores and seemingly, a half dozen or more drugstores?

There is also an abundance of liquor outlets on Westside.

I can’t help but long for some creativity and innovative thinking from all the relevant development players that have a clear responsibility to contribute to West Kelowna’s economic development.

That would give value and give us on the Westside the foundation for a provincial model community, not a cookie-cutter facsimile of what we shouldn’t be.

It was pointed out to me yesterday by a local concerned citizen that perhaps we should look at Chilliwack and its recent mall developments, such as Garrison Village, that hinge on filling the gaps in community economic development with sensible independent retailers that both attract and fill a need in that community’s landscape.

We don’t want anymore fast food outlets that want us to believe their products are critical for a healthy lifestyle.

We are desirous of creating a showcase community here on the Westside, a community that we can be truly proud of, not only for the mix of residents, but for the beauty of the landscape and developments as well as intelligent well-thought out and planned unique and creative retailers are drawn to open their doors knowing their lease arrangement will not bury them in less than a single year of operation.

What I would like to see happen quickly, quietly and effectively would be to have a West Kelowna community economic development task force put in place with a solid mix of relevant stakeholders to explore such key elements. They could include an economic development scorecard, a district branding strategy, focus groups to assess consumer wants and needs in a variety of purchasing categories and a series of economic development components that would lead to creation of a dynamic strategy and action plan.

I don’t buy into the theory that Westside residents must go to Kelowna to shop.

Are we making an assumption that Kelowna retailers have everything we might need on their shelves?  How silly is that?

We do need an economic strategy designed to showcase the strengths and attractiveness of the West Kelowna landscape so existing business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs can readily see the merit in innovation and creativity in their thought processes that will contribute to cementing our merchant critical mass as a viable, attractive and exciting recipe for the future.

In addition, a “showcase” community could attract new residents and new entrepreneurs who want to share this special place.

You might ask why I am writing about community economic development issues in his entrepreneurship column?

Driving into Kelowna for meetings each day, I passed the new strip mall (on WFN land) when it was under construction.

What did I see when the sign went up? A dollar store, liquor store, drugstore were all planned.

These were not the high-end quality retailers I was led to believe would be housed in this area to add value to the Westside economy.

So, I have felt prompted to stand on my soap box and ask for a regrouping of thought for the  greater good.

I know of a West Coast restaurant chain that would like to explore a satellite location and specialty home décor and kitchen retailers that would investigate the Westside as possible locations, but we are not hoisting a banner saying to the world we are open for business.

The developers are shying away from the Westside because there is a perception of a poor attitude toward development.

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