For Corrie Griffiths, business development officer with the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, the key to attracting new business to this area is to keep the businesses that are already here healthy and to help them grow.
“For new business to locate here, we need strong existing businesses,” says Griffiths, adding that between 65 per cent and 80 per cent of new jobs in this area will be created by companies already operating here.
This success-breeds-success strategy for attracting new companies to the Central Okanagan is a key part of what the EDC is doing these days as it works to help the region’s economy grow.
But like the businesses it helps, the EDC has its work cut out for itself in a time of increased regional, national and global competition.
As one of the fastest growing areas in Canada, the Central Okanagan has many advantages, including both lifestyle and business-related, and it’s the EDC’s job to sell potential newcomers on the merits of locating here.
So being able to point to established and ongoing success is a helpful tool, she says.
But there are also challenges, including some of the very things that are helping fuel positive changes here.
For instance, a growing population is helping bring more amenities to the area as newcomers bring ideas from where they lived before arriving here.
But that same population growth is also affecting other areas such as property values and the need for expanded municipal services which impact taxes.
Housing prices are on the rise and considered high here compared with the rest of the country—a consideration for a company when deciding to come here.
While it cannot directly impact areas of jurisdiction controlled by municipalities in the Regional District of the Central Okanagan, the EDC does provide information to help local politicians as they wrestle with issues such as tax rates, services, amenities.
But despite those challenges, Griffiths sees the Central Okanagan as a place with plenty to offer companies looking to either relocate or set up shop.
With a university offering research and development opportunities and helping to train a top class workforce, a college offering a myriad of skills training opportunities, and an airport with direct links to other major Canadian and U.S. centres, Kelowna is seeing interest from outside business investors, said Griffiths.
Part of her responsibilities are technological attraction and the lucrative Alberta market, two of the areas where the Central Okanagan is making major headway.
While the recent announcement about direct flights from Kelowna to Fort McMurray is good news for the thousands of locals who work in the Alberta Oil Sands industry, it is not the first connection.
Griffiths said there are already a number of companies here that supply parts and equipment to that industry.
During one of the EDC’s recent Business Walks—a local initiative where municipal, business and provincial officials went door-to-door asking businesses how they are doing and what they need to succeed and what they would like to see happen here—a large number of small industrial businesses were identified, many operating in the city’s north end.
Griffiths, an American who emigrated to Canada 11 years ago and has been with the EDC for the past seven years, has a background in both the public and private sector having worked for several years with the State of California parks department in research and planning.
She said the Business Walk, which has been held three times here, not only helps the EDC stay in touch with what local business needs but also lets the local and provincial governments know as well.
Given that the latter two are in a position to directly help businesses with their respective policies, that type of communication is critical, she added.