Dan McRae has arguably one of the most important jobs in the district of Squamish. With public expectation focussed around jobs and economic development, McRae launched and anchored a business retention and expansion program, while working to make Squamish a lucrative place to invest.
An interview with the economic development officer.
Q. What have we been able to achieve?
A. Well, we have implemented a program that helps us track the customer service that we are providing. We know we have met directly with 126 business owners that employ close to 2,000 people in the community and we have gathered the most extensive information ever on businesses.
Out of those have come 52 action items, on government regulation, financing, local government service, supply logistics, work force training, work force attraction, and business facility, etc.
We have relationship with banks, and I used to be the finance guy at Community Futures, so I understand that aspect of business, and we have a work BC office in town that is a tremendous help.
In the last year, we have worked with 43 different investor prospects, we have got 254 hours we have put into these 43 prospects doing business development planning, local government services, etc.
And that is what really makes me enthusiastic, we are seeing diverse industry interest, but most of this stuff, it takes time.
A business case has to be developed and it has to be approved by a finance committee, so it takes time.
And we aren’t exactly in an environment where the global economy is going off.
It’s also about building relationships, when I came to this job, and said where are the deals, where are the relationships, where are the project…it was nothing. Now, if I went out and got hit by a bus, all this (information) is here.
Q. Of those 43 different investors you mention, can you provide me an example of one?
A. In some cases we are signing non-disclosure agreements, people are concerned about their workforce finding out about the move, and the same goes for competitive edge, they would lose that edge, it people find out about potential sites, then real estate speculation happens, and that can kill deals.
We had different resources applied and we had a very inconsistent approach to economic development, but it has undergone a lot of change.
Q. One view is that we don’t go out there and bring investment to town?
A. The provincial government and the BC Jobs plan have done an amazing thing for communities like Squamish by investing in foreign trade offices.
This has created networking opportunities, and what that does is it saves our tax payers the cost because we go and meet investors, we profile squamish, and they help generate leads for us.
I had an investor group and we had them in here for lunch and showed them the videos to show a flavour of culture and lifestyle, the people and the workforce.
We also have the accelerated provincial nominee program where we work with immigrant entrepreneurs, we go attend conferences and seminars in Vancouver, so there could be 50 or 60 potential investors.
The message is that there are not a lot of businesses for sale in Squamish right now, but we have had some enquiries, there was someone who came here last week, and they wanted to know what is going on in the community in terms of economic development standpoint.
Q. I interviewed the economic development officer of Maple Ridge, and they seem quite aggressive in brining investors to Squamish.
A. Maple ridge has a population of 75,000 people, and Sandy Blue’s economic development office, I mean how much resources does she have, there is things that she does we can’t do because we don’t have the same kind of resources.
But that is not to say we are not spending a lot of time with people who are bringing business to Squamish.
Q. What are the challenges of your job?
A. Okay, first let’s take stock right now of the economic development scene in Squamish.
We have unprecedented investment in tourism, it’s a game changer for the industry, unprecedented offers being put on industrial lands in Squamish, developers negotiating on the oceanfront, it’s a milestone, waterfront property acquired by the people, seven million being invested for new residential towers at our award winning university, buildings being built in our industrial area, what is happening here…a lot.
We should be proud and acknowledge there are some great things happening in Squamish.
Q. What are some of the challenges we face in Squamish?
A. Well changing priorities is one challenge, you know when business needs service, and you need to service them. We assist business in the best way we can, but we have other projects, other strategic interests we work, but it ebbs and flows.
There are people we met through our business retention and expansion program, who would have never known whom to contact, and whom to reach out to, but now they know who to call, and we have a relationship.
Q. What is the purpose of our commercial and industrial strategy?
A. If we go back to what we have heard from local businesses, most of the feedback is location related.
They can’t find suitable space, and there is problem with zoning, plus you want to take stock of what kind of commercial investor land we have and what kind of policy is sitting on that land, how are things being absorbed here, at what rate?
We can go out and attract all the business we want, but if they don’t have a place where they can fit it in, what’s the point?
So, the commercial/industrial strategy is part of the eco development strategy.
Q. What would you like to say to naysayers who believe nothing much is happening in Squamish?
A. Okay, we have interviewed 126 business owners, who employ close to 2,000 people in the community, more half of them are telling us that they are growing and employing people.
So there are all kinds of different perspective out there.
What we have done is established a lot of valuable relationships with existing businesses, and external business investors who are looking, and we are seeing investments in different areas that is building resilient economy.