For many months, I have experienced both joy and concern at the myriad of questions posed to me by Central Okanagan residents about the future for industrial and economic development for the Westside.
Is there a light at the end of that tunnel?
We have become rather overwhelmed these past several years with the new large retailers appearing in every direction we turn, leaving us wondering what’s next on West Kelowna’s horizon?
What a challenge we say to ourselves over the fresh cup of coffee in yet another similar shop competing with the several others dotting the landscape while we decide which of the several drugstores shall we honour with our prescription for backache?
West Kelowna people keep asking me the same series of questions about why do we have so many of one category of retail/service and not others which we convince ourselves we need in the present and future development of the Westside.
The newspapers are continually plugged with text about the myriad of concerns over who said what to whom, the chess game of land swaps, and developers wondering if they will ever be able to come out ahead in the utilization of the land bank they so zealously accumulated when times were different.
We tell ourselves that we are “open for business,” as a Saskatchewan premier used to tell me when I lived there.
Yet, the strongest developmental leadership that I witness in the five years I have adopted the Okanagan as our home has been Westbank First Nations.
With pride and an aggressive business acumen, the WFN has shown the masses how they can “get er’ done.”
With the Okanagan Entrepreneurship Society, we are constantly questioned about the avenues for potential venture opportunities by budding entrepreneurs who are both starting out for their first foray into the entrepreneurial world and those who have decided to leave the workforce and venture out for themselves as the self-employed which vast numbers of people are doing in our amazing region.
What our society has begun, something we are very excited about, is to launch an initiative which is designed to bring together many of the community leaders across the region to examine the following premise: What great work has been completed and in place, what shortfalls are clearly evident and how we can collaborate to create positive socio-economic change?
This mission, we expect, will result in the first Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurship Strategy and Action Plan that we will present to the population in late January, 2012, to be explored for implementation through appropriate community partnerships.
The response from all has been wonderful. I can’t help but feel the West Kelowna side of the lake will undoubtedly benefit from this encouraging reaction to prompting a spirit of entrepreneurship among entrepreneurs and community leaders alike.
With this spirit of to-morrow in mind, the upcoming municipal elections will see some new faces with returning faces around council tables.
I tell myself that I will remain optimistic about the continuing positive contribution that all citizenry might expect toward the development of an entrepreneurial culture in the Okanagan Valley.
We need a gameplan, folks, that will see councils up and down the valley tout the virtues of the entrepreneurial way and come together to bring about investment and economic development that will confirm provincial and national status as the Okanagan being truly one of the most attractive and entrepreneur-friendly regions of British Columbia and, indeed, Canada.
The recent study handed to me by the Canadian Youth Business Foundation organization was with reference to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business naming B.C. as the Number One province to do business and Kelowna as Number 5 entrepreneurial city in Canada.
A pretty amazing endorsement of our region and our province, being judged by others in our nation and coming up strong.
But let me end today’s column by posing a complementary question: I am completely baffled why the current provincial government seems to believe that a provincial entrepreneurship policy and an accompanying strategy are not important to the people of “the most beautiful place on earth?”
I know this because five successive small business ministers have told me so, coupled with a sprinkling of MLAs.
Perhaps one day someone in Victoria will “get it,” realize that entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of Canada and that our wonderful province will then come out of the shadows with a astoundingly creative strategy that will set our hearts afire.
But until if and when that occurs, I would conclude with this challenge—-if community leaders and private enterprise in West Kelowna can actually see the benefit of working together towards an entrepreneurially culture horizon, being mindful of soaring lease costs, what a wonderful world this would be.
In the meantime, keep the faith. I am.
Joel Young is an entrepreneurial leadership coach, consultant and educator and founder, Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurs Society.