Chilliwack is already known for its business friendly reputation.
The Progress asked candidates this week how council could be a catalyst for economic development in Chilliwack, attracting even more jobs and investment. (See their complete responses here.)
Many recognized the role CEPCO already plays as the economic development arm of the city.
Candidate Chris Kloot gave credit to past and current councils for keeping taxes low. “Along with CEPCO’s hard work, we need to continue building on this.
“We see a lot of benefit already with the new site for UFV and new industrial properties being developed such as Progress Way and the old Cattermole site, and in the past decade thousands of jobs have been created here with several large companies choosing Chilliwack as the place to be, versus other areas in the Lower Mainland,” Kloot said.
Candidate Kim Harder also had praise for what CEPCO has achieved: “Given the impressive number of small and medium sized independently-owned businesses that exist here it would appear that CEPCO is indeed doing its job.”
“Youth involvement, public art, green initiatives, heritage preservation, and improved access to nature such as the Mt. Cheam trailhead,” are improvements that would make it even more desirable, Harder said.
Incumbent Sue Attrill sees room for improvement, despite being known here for less red tape and bureaucracy.
“Employers struggle with getting great long term employees. It is very important that we have a wonderful community and quality of life in Chilliwack so that employers have no trouble attracting and keeping staff. Our business tax rate is crucial to attracting economic development and ours is one of the lowest around.”
Candidate Phill Bruce said “enticing high tech industry” and more manufacturing industry to Chilliwack is the goal.
“Supporting families through strong economic growth by creating well-paying jobs in this community will promote a positive business environment, because that’s the key to helping families prosper,” Bruce said.
Candidate Brigida Crosbie said she would: “target the areas needed for development and growth, eventually shifting an area like our downtown core into revitalized segments of the city.”
Tax increment financing, is her idea as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure and other community improvement projects.
Candidate Brenda Currie said it’s important show the community what CEPCO does for the community and its goals.
“We need to let everyone know we are leaders in economic development and the benefits are job creation. And that is huge!”
Candidate Gerry Goosen kept it simple: “We have to keep taxes and fees low; streamline business and building applications or rezoning applications to a level faster than any other municipality in the fraser valley, and give start-up incentives ensuring there are valuable and long term benefits for Chilliwack.
Candidate Dick Harrington had harsh criticism for the money spent to run CEPCO, which he said has assets of $14 million.
“This has been an unnecessary expenditure based on the assumption that CEPCO has been a worthwhile expense. I very much doubt this.”
Harrington believes CEPCO could be replaced with “a volunteer entity” bringing “millions” in new investment “at no cost to the taxpayer.”
Candidate Michael Kha wants to see more careful and strategic marketing.
“Then investors will be more inclined to invest in our city,” Kha said. Council should “work closely with the BIA and develop major events to showcase what Chilliwack has to offer. These events needs to be spectacular enough to entice people from other cities to come and visit us, and interesting enough to give Chilliwack some media attention. For an example every year in Vancouver there is an event called Diner en Blanc,” he could see a similar event with local farmers.
Incumbent Jason Lum points to “a competitive tax environment” as key to job creation and business retention.
“We can facilitate future growth by ensuring well-maintained services and infrastructure,” Lum said, adding he’s supported key infrastructure upgrades to roads, water, sewer, diking and drainage. “Finally, we need to continue to cultivate a culture of accessibility and expedient customer service at City Hall.”
Incumbent Chuck Stam said nurturing “a stable business environment” is what sets them apart, in addition to CEPCO’s work.
“This environment includes good value for low taxes, available and affordable industrial/commercial lands, reliable and cost effective utilities, good transit and free flowing transportation, affordable homes for employees and great recreational facilities and opportunities.
“While external to our core municipal mandate, part of City hall’s role in maintaining an attractive environment is working closely with our provincial counterparts in ensuring first rate local healthcare, education opportunities at all levels and regional interconnectivity/access to markets,” Stam added.
Candidate Patti MacAhonic remembered when Chilliwack was named “most business friendly community” in 2012.
“I believe that council needs to be working collaboratively with local, provincial and national stakeholders, staying on top of emerging opportunities,” for sustainable growth and stability.
“I also strongly believe that we need to put more support into representing the businesses that we currently have,” said MacAhonic.
Candidate Phillip Maxwell ticked off three initiatives that the city council could take:
First is increased city presence in the local media.
“Showcase in these advertisements why people would want to live, invest and visit Chilliwack, which all in turn would stimulate economic development,” he said. “Secondly, challenge CEPCO to look at their mandate and focus on certain main areas,” like a better website, and a way to advertise city job opportunities.
Incumbent Stewart McLean sees the value in “maintaining low taxes and a debt free status” for Chilliwack, and working with groups like the Chamber of Commerce.
“We need to continue to reach out into the business communities beyond our Chilliwack borders to promote to them that we are business friendly we are open for business, and that Chilliwack is a great place to live work and play.
“We should continue with plans like the downtown revitalization as this sends a very strong message to the broader business community that Chilliwack is a place that they would want to invest in as the city is thinking and planning ahead for development and growth,” said McLean.
Incumbent Ken Popove focused specifically on what could be done downtown: “As city council we will collaborate not only with Walas Concepts but with the people of Chilliwack, the residents, the business owners, and the real estate agents to create a downtown that is multi-use, that is made by the people, for the people.”
Candidate Sam Waddington wants to see Chilliwack have a Long-term Strategic Economic Plan, saying the OCP in not enough.
“A forward looking economic plan would help to lay the vision for the City that we hope to have in the future, and allow us to then put in place the groundwork to build that vision,” he said. A plan like that “will be able to give security to prospective business interests in Chilliwack by showing them how their business idea fits into our master plan.”
For candidate Richard Williams it’s all about investing in technology infrastructure and tools for building with new/emerging technologies.
“We should be investing in network infrastructure, both wired and wireless (cellular) as well as a city based data centre. We are also close enough to Vancouver and the U.S. that we should easily be able to get people and investments coming here quickly once these types of upgrades/systems are in place.”