Economic group loses Langford

Lack of local business interest cited for the split

The South Island Prosperity Project is disappointed with Langford’s recent withdrawal of support.

“We would love to have them,” said Dan Dagg, past-president and interim chair of the regional group, previously known as the South Vancouver Island Economic Development Association. He added that the “doors are always open” for the city to rejoin.

While the association has been seeking the support of all of the municipalities in the region, it was built on a model that only required majority support, which it has received, Dagg said.

“Things are going extremely well for the association. We’re adding new businesses all the time.”

Now that the registered not-for-profit society is up and running, he said, the group can focus its energy on expanding membership and achieving more goals.

But he noted, “I think it’s inaccurate to say there is only a few partners.”

He gave as examples such current member associations, such as the Victoria Real Estate Board, Tourism Victoria and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, which represent a large number of businesses.

After Langford council voted last month to reject the city’s membership in the South Island Prosperity Project, Mayor Stew Young said that “not one business person in Langford put up the fee to join.” He believes the fee is too high and tried to have it reduced to encourage more involvement from all levels of business.

“We couldn’t really see the benefit,” he said, noting it’s hard to justify spending tax dollars on a business initiative not supported by the Langford business community.

“That was really the bottom line.”

Young also noted that municipalities were expected to sign on for a five-year commitment, which he thought was too long. Such a commitment would restrict the City from pulling its financial support, even if that’s what taxpayers wanted. “You should never tie taxpayers’ money into something that could fail,” he said.

While Langford gave support in principle to the project last fall, council members voiced concerns about the future board’s make-up and withheld financial support in December.

Dagg, a founding member of the group, clarified that the five-year commitment included “an opt-out for non-performance.” If the group isn’t performing and meeting expectations, he said, members will be able to pull their support.

The group’s municipal funding model is based on a 50-50 formula of $1 per capita plus .07 per cent of total tax collected, for an annual total of roughly $650,000 per year for the region. Other members, including those in the private sector, were asked to collectively contribute an additional $400,000 per year to help leverage matching provincial and federal funds.

Young said regional economic development groups have failed in past because they have not been inclusive of all levels in the business community. He said the group has too much government involvement and does not give an effective voice to companies of all sizes.

Dagg said the Prosperity Project is in a transition phase that will eventually see its new board, made up of individuals from the public and private sectors, take over operations. The expectation is that a new executive director – as well as some federal funding – will be announced soon.

The group is working with 10 municipalities, the Songhees Nation, one not-for-profit organization, three regional post-secondary institutions and 11 private sector enterprises and business associations (West Shore Chamber one of them?).

Langford is one of just three Capital Region municipalities not supporting the Project. Metchosin council rejected supporting the group from the start, while Sooke recently announced its withdrawal of support.

Langford has a volunteer economic development committee, Young noted, so it doesn’t cost taxpayers. That committee, he added, has been instrumental in seeing the City’s recreational facilities built, as well as bringing Rugby Canada here.