Task Force Seeks Input on Draft Action Plan: Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community

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Date:  Thursday, January 19, 2017
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — The Mayor’s Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement is seeking input to help shape its draft action plan, Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community, which will be introduced at the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Victoria mixer tonight from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority at Ogden Point.

The actions in the plan are meant to help people who are out of the workforce get to work, and to grow a strong, inclusive economy at the same time. The plan identifies three sets of recommendations that will strengthen the City’s procurement practices to maximize community benefit as well as support small business and social enterprise sectors. Using an ecosystem-based approach to community economic development, the draft action plan focuses to a large degree on efforts to get the unemployed, underemployed and marginalized into employment.

“The Task Force members believe that in order to truly build a sustainable economy, we must create an inclusive economy which provides opportunities for everyone to succeed, including those who are often left behind such as youth, First Nations people, those with mental health and addictions challenges, those without homes or with disabilities, and people released from prison,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.

The draft recommendations include: Leading Economic Change – make the mainstream economy more inclusive to ensure there is always an opportunity for everyone to prosper; Community Benefit Procurement – purchases should be leveraged to improve the economic, social and environmental well-being
of the community; and Social Enterprise Development – strengthen and grow businesses already doing business with community benefit in mind and grow the social enterprise sector.

Each of the three recommendations has a set of actions and tasks to be implemented over the next five years
to achieve prescribed outcomes. Leads and supports in the community to help achieve these outcomes are also proposed and include the City of Victoria, local organizations, agencies and business.

The Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community draft action plan is available at victoria.ca/economicchange.

There are a variety of ways for the community to provide feedback, including completing an online survey, emailing input to economicchange@victoria.ca or tweeting to @CityofVictoria #EconomicChangeVic by Sunday, February 12, 2017. Public input will help inform the draft action plan that will be presented to City Council for consideration in March.

The Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement was a recommendation of the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity, which with input from the community, developed the City’s economic action plan, Making Victoria: Unleashing Potential in 2015. The economic action plan identifies six engines to drive economic prosperity, generate jobs and raise household incomes. One engine that encompasses the rest is entrepreneurship and social enterprise.

“Creating Prosperity Through Economic Development” is a key objective of the City of Victoria 2015-2018 Strategic Plan for focus and investment. Appointed by City Council last April, the Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement is chaired by Mayor Lisa Helps and includes Councillor Marianne Alto and First Nations representatives, as well as leaders in social enterprise, community and economic development, and business. For more information, visit: victoria.ca/economicchange.

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For More Information:
Mayor Lisa Helps
Chair, Mayor’s Task Force on
Social Enterprise and Social Procurement
250.661.2708

 

Rock Bay Square – Hidden Entrepreneurs and Big Local Talent

When I say “Rock Bay” you think, Ellis Recycle? Rock Bay Landing Shelter? Heavy industry? Down and out? Think again.

Last Tuesday I had the delight of having my socks knocked off during a tour of Rock Bay Square with owner Bob Skene, his daughter Carolyn, and John Juricic, local entrepreneur and economic development keener.

Rock Bay Square is located at 2612–2630 Bridge Street. It was originally built in the early 1920s; the three original buildings have been made into one, and recently renovated. It was once part of a mill, with lumber floating up from the inner harbour. And now? It’s a hub for artisans, light manufacturing, tech, coffee roasting, local honey, and more. It’s a beacon of Victoria’s entrepreneurial future.

In a recent Douglas Magazine article I was asked, “What do we need to do to become a more entrepreneurial city?” My response, “This is what really gets me. We are an entrepreneurial city.” This became the title of the article. What we need to do is start with this premise – we are entrepreneurial – and to nurture this entrepreneurial spirit.

How? Rock Bay Square is a great example. Co-locate and incubate. Start-ups need affordable flexible space, a ready-made community to bounce ideas off, and the ability to grow in situ. If you’re like Toni Desrosiers (below) of Abeego and you just signed a deal with a major distributer in the UK it’s really handy to have a landlord willing to knock down a wall for you so you can expand your capacity without the hassle of moving.

If you’re an artist and you need a room of your own with good natural light, you can rent a space like this one for $300 per month.

Rock Bay Square, like Space Station, Space BarFort Tectoria, and The Dock Centre for Social Impact offer co-location and incubation. And they also have a key ingredient desired by the up and coming generation of Victoria entrepreneurs. They create community. What inspired me most was the sense of community among the businesses we visited. While they’re putting Victoria on the map internationally, they’re invested here.

Artist Rande Cooke smiling with coffee mug in hand (pictured at top), has been commissioned by clients from all over the globe. He asks me as we visit his studio, how can we make Rock Bay Square and all the entrepreneurial activity here more visible. And he offers to help. I accept enthusiastically and direct him here.

Aaron (below) at Second Crack Coffee Lab – a recently opened coffee shop right on Bridge Street – sees his shop not only as a community gathering space but also as an educational place and is working on a potential partnership with Camosun College.

Frontier Marketing Co. (below) strengthens charities through efficient and effective long-term fundraising. This growing Victoria social enterprise is currently working with about 20 charities across Canada. And here at home, they sub-lease their space, desk by desk, to other entrepreneurs looking for good company and affordable start-up space.

I’m buoyed by the creativity, diversity and business growth in this tucked away corner of Victoria. It’s a microcosm of Victoria’s future. We are an entrepreneurial city. As your mayor I’m committed to fostering a spirit of collaboration and a can-do attitude at City Hall to meet this entrepreneurial spirit and to raise it.

2015: Pathway to Prosperity

A recent and very well done Times Colonist series by Sarah Petrescu documented the economic hardships of many people in the region, from single moms to seniors. I’ve heard from these people.

Two days after I was elected, a long-unemployed woman sent me three different versions of her resume asking, now that I was mayor, could I help her find a job. Not long after, a short, hand-written letter arrived in the mail: “Hello Lisa, Please be sure that property taxes don’t increase, decrease would be better. I’m still paying with post-dated cheques for the last property tax. I am 83 years old and I find it very, very hard.”

During the election last fall, and since taking office, I’ve also heard from countless small business owners who are struggling. I’ve spoken too with downtown building owners who offer new tenants two to three months free rent and still can’t fill their vacancies because of the high rents they have to charge to cover property taxes. I’m also continually reminded by small business and building owners that it still takes a long time wading through City processes to get a small business open.

How can we make 2015 a pathway to prosperity for residents and our small business community in the City and the region?

Concrete Stepping Stones
I will make two commitments to you as we move forward. First, we’ll actually do stuff. We’ll move from idea generation, to concrete plan with timelines for change, to implementation, to regularly measuring our successes and failure and improving accordingly.

We’ll fail sometimes. And when we do hopefully the failures will be early and fast so we can learn and improve before we’ve wasted your time and money. Be patient with us. And give us feedback. My second commitment is that I’ll listen to it.

Here are just a few short-term, concrete steps towards increased prosperity and affordability I’d like the Council to take immediately after finishing its strategic planning process. The beauty of the planning process and of drawing on the wisdom and experience of the Council members is that even more good ideas will emerge.

  1. Create an Economic Development Task Force
    We don’t need more studies or strategies on economic development. We need action. Section 142 of the Community Charter enables Councils to create Select Committees to “consider or inquire into any matter and to report its findings and opinion to the council.” One member of the select committee must be a council member; the rest can be members of the public.
    I’d like Council to create a time-limited, task specific Select Committee called the Economic Development Task Force. I’d like this committee to have a March to August mandate and to report to Council in September. The committee will be tasked with advising Council on the best way to create an Economic Development Office at City Hall and with developing a mandate for this office.The mandate for the Economic Development Office may include but is not limited to filling downtown vacancies, attracting new companies, attracting more well-paying, family-sustaining jobs in a variety of sectors, supporting green and clean economy initiatives and supporting sustainable and innovative real estate development. The Office will have clear and measurable goals. City Staff will be tasked with developing a business plan for sustainable funding to this office. Start-up funding can come from the City’s Economic Development Reserve Fund. This proposal is subject to the will of Council; I’m committed to working with Council to refine the idea and to seek their input and wisdom.
  2. Continuously Improve our Small Business Processes
    Small businesses are the lifeblood of Victoria’s economy and key to generating local prosperity. Taking a business from idea to startup is a huge undertaking. I’d like to see the City make business start-ups and expansions as easy as possible by helping and enabling. This is a big endeavor and will require comprehensive action, part of which can be implemented through an Economic Development Office. In the meantime, City Staff have been working with our small business community. Here are two small pilot projects and successes that reduce red tape and decrease processing time. I’d like to see many more of these.
  3. Authorization Method for Inspections for Plumbing Permits 
    Soft launch: November 2014 Full launch January 1, 2015 On November 19 City Staff hosted a first ever contractors breakfast. They sent over 200 invites, and all the major local plumbing contractors attended. The new authorization method allows the plumbing inspectors to accept a declaration from the plumbing contractors without on-site inspections. This method would allow staff to better manage inspection activities and to allow construction to continue without delays due to inspections.
  4. Electronic Submission of Sign Permits
    Soft launch: Summer 2014 Full Launch November 2015
    Need a sign permit for your small business? City staff started accepting sign permits electronically in the summer as a pilot. Customers were given a choice of electronic or paper submission. Most preferred the electronic method and now, almost all sign permits are processed electronically saving both time and trees.
  5. Implement an Affordable Housing Pilot Project
    At the end of this four year term I’d like to be able to say with confidence, “Victoria is a place where there is always an opportunity for everyone to prosper.” But as I said in a recent Vic News article looking into the year ahead I think affordability and prosperity are two sides of the same coin. If you don’t have a home, you can’t have an opportunity to prosper.
    Many people and organizations in the City and the region are working hard on affordable housing. Here’s a small policy pilot project I’d like to see implemented in Victoria and, colleagues willing, in Esquimalt and Saanich too. There’s not any one idea that can solve the affordable housing crisis. Here’s another tool for the toolbox.
  6. ‘Ten by Ten’ affordable housing pilot project
    Work with 10 building owners (per municipality) who would commit to designating 10 percent of their units as affordable (i.e. not more than $550 per month for a one bedroom) for a period of 10 years and receive a corresponding property tax exemption that offsets the lost rent. There’s a precedent. The City already has a heritage tax exemption program. Every year the City grants millions of dollars of tax exemptions to private sector landlords who own heritage buildings. This helps to get these old buildings restored. Surely affordable housing deserves the same attention as heritage.  

Together in 2015, with these initiatives and others, we can begin to lay the pathway for prosperity so that Victoria is a place where there’s opportunity, for everyone. 

This blog post was written while listening to Glenn Gould’s moving interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, with a cup of ginger tea.

Strong Local Economy

Starting a new business or expanding an existing one is hard work, in and of itself.

When the guys at Wheelies Motorcycles on Rock Bay went to City Hall to get their idea off the ground, they got stuck in so much red tape that they asked me, as a councillor, to help them out. While I was glad to lend a hand, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to personally help every business person in need. City Hall needs to do a better job of delivering its services to citizens and entrepreneurs alike.

Therefore, as your next mayor, I will work with council to do the following to make it easier for everyone to get the services and help they need from City Hall, as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that they can help build a better Victoria for everyone:

  • Appoint a Mayor’s Economic Development Cabinet to advise the development office with people who understand both the city’s processes and the private sector. Set clear timelines and measurables for growing the economy. Monitor and report success. Start-up funding for this office will come from the City’s Economic Development Reserve Fund.
  • Make City Hall open for business. Create an Enterprise Facilitator position in the Economic Development Office to support people who want to open or re-locate a business in Victoria, with special attention to start-ups and young entrepreneurs.
  • Create and implement a regional economic development brand and plan. Work with mayors from across the region to establish a Mayors’ Caucus with a focus on regional economic development. Develop a shared understanding of the roles that economic development agencies and Chambers of Commerce play in regional economic development. Leverage the strengths and assets of each municipality – this will lead to the whole region being more than the sum of its parts.
  • Develop a business plan for the establishment of a business incubator downtown in partnership with the University of Victoria, Royals Roads University, and Camosun College. The incubator would have a specific focus on social enterprises (both for-profit and non-profit), as well as green and clean technologies, which support leading-edge business innovation more generally.
  • Support the technology and tourism sectors by continuing to build a vibrant downtown with businesses that provide top-notch goods and services. Work closely and collaboratively with Tourism Victoria and others to promote Victoria as a destination market that provides authentic, meaningful experiences to tourists. 

Read more about my plans to improve City Hall and how I want to help build a prosperous downtown and vibrant neighbourhoods.

ThankAndrew for your videography skills via Dodd’s Eye Media.

On Business and City Business

A number of people in the business community have asked me to spell out both my values and my intentions for business and the economy, should I be elected Mayor of Victoria.

Three foundational convictions
The following three statements summarize my beliefs and convictions, based on my local experiences with small business start-ups at 
Community Micro Lending, and as a councilor over three years:

  • Successful enterprise is critical to overall city success and it is the defining condition of a prosperous downtown.  As your mayor I will demonstrate an understanding of business fundamentals including risk, timing, and responsiveness. I will work to meet your needs and opportunities with “Yes, City Hall can help make that happen.” Attitude is key, and this kind of responsiveness is essential.
  • A positive climate for new business creation is integral to keeping the city dynamic, making it a magnet for talent and investment, and creating job opportunities and high employment. This is a dire necessity as 50% of Victorians earn $27,000 or less per year.
  • Business health and local wealth generation are key components of Victoria’s social well-being, physical beauty and rich cultural life. 

A sleeves-rolled-up approach
I have carefully studied the City’s decision-making culture over the years. I am convinced that there is a lot more room for a sleeves-rolled-up approach, where process doesn’t serve as an excuse for inaction. In Victoria, it’s not only business that is frustrated with City Hall’s lack of responsiveness and jungle of red tape, community groups are equally frustrated and these are often small organizations run largely by volunteers. The following is what I will accomplish in terms of making City Hall dynamic, inviting and truly ‘open for business’ in my first term as mayor:

Downtown: We will create a thriving, prosperous and attractive downtown. How? By creating a “Downtown Prosperity Project” with a budget, four year-timeline and clear deliverables. By investing in downtown public spaces. By working in strong partnership with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, downtown property owners and downtown residents. The most successful projects I have led are ones that have been collaborative. It is only in working together that we will succeed.

Downtown residential: City living will become a priority. The CRD estimates that City of Victoria (whole city) population increased by only 300 persons between 2012 and 2013, and that this meagre growth level will continue for more than the next decade. The absence of a ‘home-grown’ downtown residential population increases challenge and risk for our businesses and for the entire property sector. We need downtown to be red hot.  We need a dramatic and rapid expansion in the downtown and shoulder residential population to provide local, in-built support for all of our downtown businesses.  I propose to modify the bonus density program, make it more straightforward and create exemptions. We’re looking for beautifully scaled and detailed developments, not density caps.  Historically, Victoria has acted as if it had all the time in the world. Suburban competition—retail and service—shows how foolish that attitude has been.  My view is: if you snooze, you lose. The above program needs to happen now, now, now.

Local economy: Let’s free up some resources to create an Economic Development Office at City Hall. Appoint a mayor’s Economic Development Cabinet to provide ongoing advice to the Economic Development Office (detailed blog post to come). Staff the office with the people who understand both the city’s processes and the private sector. Set clear timelines and deliverables. And measure our success.

City projects: Let’s create a stronger culture of project management at City Hall. We spend large amounts of public money on capital projects like the Johnson Street Bridge. And coming in the next four years are sewage treatment, a new firehall and a refurbished Bay Street Bridge. As the capital City of British Columbia, I’d like to change the city’s reputation as a place that can’t tie its own shoelaces. In February we hired a new City Manager who is already beginning to take strides in the right direction. I would like to work alongside him and to make the City a model of excellence in project management.

Development: Approvals/licensing/permitting processes will be simplified and sped-up.  The new business message from the City will be “How can we help you get to yes?”  Implement predictable approvals processes that happen in the minimum amount of time possible by managing the city like a system where there are no silos. Everyone is working together towards the aim of effective, efficient, quality service.

Partnerships: We have the opportunity to make the city a champion of partnerships. New pocket parks, green spaces and public art, a new public library and crystal pool. In the 21st century, collaboration is key. I don’t even want to think of these things as taxpayer burdens, they are business opportunities offering room for collaboration between the City, its people, and enterprise. This doesn’t mean we can’t have a publicly owned and operated library or swimming pool. It just means that the path we take to get there is not simply to raise taxes and build. Cities across North America are engaged in a Metropolitan Revolution. I know Victoria can be on the leading edge.

Fees: Review all current fees to business: are they fair and necessary, or just a cash grab?  If they don’t pass the test, dump ‘em.

Comparative cities: Have the City’s Economic Development Office look to what other enterprising cities have done to foster and support sustainable economic development, create prosperity and get a handle on property tax increases. West Vancouver and other cities that have successfully frozen property taxes.  That’s right: zero.  This doesn’t mean cutting and slashing at City Hall. It means working more collaboratively, adaptively and responsively. The research is clear – organizations that have adaptive, responsive and collaborative work environments use their resources more prudently, generate more revenue, more creatively and are also great places to work. This is my goal for City Hall.

My Pledge to You
I pledge to spend my first six months in office setting City Hall up to do all these things. And I pledge to make City Hall into a place that is dynamic and that works hard and works for everyone.

And, finally, if you’ve got innovative ideas that you want to share, my ears are open. E-mail me or call me at 250-661-2708.