Flowers and toilets
Recently, someone quipped on Facebook that it appeared the previous Mayor’s idea of economic development was flowers and mine is toilets. The comment was made when we announced the opening of the new public washrooms in Spirit Centre.
Strange as it may seem, there is some truth to the observation that flowers and public washrooms could be part of a broader economic development strategy for Quesnel. Our community has long been known as a beautiful community because of our flower program and our many flowerbeds and hanging baskets have been a long-standing attractor for visitors and residents (no people, no economy). The addition of the downtown accessible public washrooms at the new Spirit Centre builds on the attraction of our flowers, as these long asked for washrooms support shopping in our downtown core and give visitors a reason to stop and shop too (that’s why we have a community promotions space beside these new washrooms).
Thinking of flowers and public washrooms as economic development initiatives helps illustrate the fact that local governments have limited tools to attract investment and create private sector jobs. The reality is that local government’s role in economic development is indirect, often through community building, as Council cannot demand or compel private investors to create jobs here, we can only entice them.
One way we can entice investment and create jobs is by attracting and retaining a diverse population, the potential consumers and workers for any business. Council is actively doing this with our investments in core infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, water and sewer systems, etc.), quality public services and programs, and modern amenities (like our new arena and new playgrounds). Our successful partnership with Northern Health to recruit doctors to Quesnel, and our partnership with BC Housing to attract investment in new housing complexes are also good examples of community building initiatives that will help us to retain and attract residents, visitors, and investment.
Council can also create a vision and image for the City that is modern, enticing, and easily accessible and searchable on the Internet. Our new brand, the City’s new website, and the recently launched Tourism Quesnel website have all been created to achieve this outcome. Our vision of becoming a “destination” rather than a “drive through” community captures the core of our current vision for Quesnel and helps us focus our strategic initiatives, like our trails inventory and master plan and our efforts to develop a new, comprehensive vision for the City’s riverfronts.
Local governments must also pay attention to their property tax structure to ensure it does not present a disincentive to investment. This is why Council took the deliberate step of freezing industrial taxes for the past two years and will do so again in 2018. This three year tax freeze has rebalanced the City’s tax revenue away from an unsustainable overreliance on industry, dropped the City’s industrial tax rate out of the top three provincially (we’ll be 9th in 2018), and still maintained our residential tax rate in the bottom quartile in the province. However, we’re now monitoring our commercial tax rate, as it is creeping up and we need to be careful to not create a disincentive for commercial investors and retailers.
As silly as it may seem on the surface, flowers and toilets actually do have a role to play in our overall economic development strategy for our community.