COWICHAN VALLEY – As we bid farewell to the holiday season and step into the dawn of a new year, we’re thrilled to have you join us on a journey of reflection and celebration of the work Economic Development Cowichan (EDC) accomplished in 2023.
At the beginning of 2023, EDC published the second edition of the State of the Cowichan Economy Report. The report highlighted Census 2021 data, as well as information on the living wage, job vacancy rates, and house prices. The data showed changes in our labour force, including a rise in working from home, and a higher proportion of jobs in health care and construction. The report helped demonstrate important links between housing and the labour market and a continued labour shortage in the region.
Making strides in Workforce Housing
Our team worked diligently to achieve significant milestones with respect to workforce housing. We conducted a series of workshops with key stakeholders in the region, covering a range of topics including short-term rental regulations, the function of a housing authority, and exploring industry led accelerated housing solutions. The workshops refined solutions specific to the Cowichan context and helped inform the Workforce Housing Strategy. Leading the project on behalf of the CVRD, with support from Cowichan Housing Association and City Spaces Consulting, EDC aims to release the strategy in 2024. The Workforce Housing Strategy will identify priority actions for increasing housing availability and affordability for the Cowichan labour force.
Increasing Community Connectivity
EDC opened pathways for improving community connection through the release of the Cowichan Internet & Cellular Connectivity Strategy. The strategy identifies gaps in connectivity infrastructure and services in the region, and provides recommended actions for addressing them with the aim of meeting community needs long into the future. Community members, local businesses, First Nations, internet service providers, and many others participated in the development of the strategy to identify a collective vision for the future of connectivity in the region that works to improve access for all residents and businesses.
Supporting Local Industry
In partnership with the Craft Cannabis Association of BC (CCABC), EDC published the Cannabis in the Cowichan Valley Report, providing a baseline from which to track the emerging legal industry in the region. The report also outlines recommendations for supporting local businesses as they mature. The data highlights trends in licensing, employment, business activities, financing, future plans, and provincial government programs, so that stakeholders can make informed decisions.
The Circular Economy Accelerator Program, delivered by the Vancouver Island Coast Economic Developers Association (VICEDA) and Synergy Foundation, concluded its pilot program. As a regional partner and steering committee member, EDC supported the program by engaging with local businesses interested in adopting circular economy principles and connecting them with the program to conduct site assessments with advisors to identify circular solutions for business operations, from internal and external reuse to leadership and training. The pilot program also published a four-part webinar series and a circular economy business guide.
In November 2023, EDC hosted a Labour & Learning Roundtable with key industry stakeholders related to the Cowichan District Hospital Replacement project. The roundtable explored ways to address skilled labour shortages, workforce housing, education and training, and childcare, with the long-term goal of creating a roadmap for future large infrastructure projects in the region.
EDC provided guidance and support throughout the year for a number of economic development initiatives across the region in film, sports tourism, and agricultural sectors, including representing the CVRD as a community partner at the 2023 Islands Agricultural Show.
The seeds EDC planted in 2023 are poised to blossom this year. We anticipate publishing our Workforce Housing Strategy in early 2024, helping the Cowichan labour force access housing. In partnership with Tourism Cowichan, we are also excited about the release of an Accommodation Assessment Study that investigates market and economic support for new hotel development in the region.
We are also embarking on updating our Strategic Plan to reflect the changes to the community and business landscape that has transformed appreciably over the past few years. Guided by the CVRD Corporate Strategic Plan and the current EDC Strategic Plan (2018-2022), our new Strategic Plan aims to help Cowichan businesses and communities overcome the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaningfully engage in economic reconciliation with First Nations, and address growing concerns around climate change, labour markets and housing.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to the incredible Cowichan community! Your support and partnerships have been the cornerstone of our success in 2023, and we look forward to continued collaboration and sustainable economic development this year. Your resilience, innovation, and shared sense of community made 2023 truly special.
Barry O’Riordan is the Manager of Economic Development Cowichan.