Any discussion about creating new opportunities for people to start their own businesses has fallen on deaf ears at the provincial and federal government levels in recent years.
So Joel Young and the business group he helped found, the Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurs Society, want to change that attitude.
The society this week has announced plans to host a roundtable discussion on Sept. 7 in Kelowna, attended by many of the local economic movers and shakers to discuss and agree to a consensus of what can be done to spark entrepreneurial business growth.
A task force would then be struck to implement an entrepreneurship strategy coupled with a three-year action plan.
“This is not about going after funding dollars and cents at this point,” said Young, an entrepreneur columnist for the Capital News.
“If we get to that point, and I think we will, then an action plan will be dropped at the doors of the Okanagan municipalities, the federal government, the province and other stakeholders to move forward with.”
Young says while government officials talk about the need to create jobs for young people, the reality is that Okanagan labour market wages don’t pay enough to keep people here. “You need two or three jobs to make ends meet, not to get ahead but just to make ends meet,” Young said.
The purpose of the roundtable is to develop a strategy, Young said, that will create an environment where people can follow their own entrepreneurial dreams rather than rely on high paying private sector jobs that don’t widely exist in the Okanagan.
Young said he was making some headway with former small business minister Diane Blonzy when the Calgary MP was minister of state for small business and tourism.
But she was demoted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a cabinet shuffle, and the ideas she and Young had been discussing were dropped.
He said small business ministry bureaucrats haven’t shared his interest in promoting entrepreurism in Canada, never mind the Okanagan.
“There is a global National Entrepreneur Week that 100 nations have signed on to support, started by the U.S. and Britain, but Canada is not a part of that,” Young said.
On the provincial side, Young said small business ministry cabinet and bureaucratic officials are saying the same things from five years ago.
“The ministers change but they’re all saying the same thing Rick Thorpe told me five or six years ago. It’s the same rhetoric. The government needs to demonstrate some real leadership in helping to develop a program that supports entrepreneurial endeavours,” said Young, noting that he hopes a well thought out strategy and action plan to implement it will change some attitudes in Victoria and Ottawa.
Locally, Young said regional efforts have been made in the last decade to promote regional business development in the Okanagan, but none of those initiatives have been able to move forward.
He noted that all the Central Okanagan mayors have offered their support to his society’s roundtable. “Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd was the first mayor to sign on,” he said.
The society will hold a formal media conference on June 7, which will be attended by Frank Lonardelli, CEO of the Harvest Group of Companies in Calgary, who is scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the roundtable discussion in September.