Get to 20,000 people by 2026—that’s the goal City of Port Alberni economic development manager Pat Deakin set for himself during his department’s budget presentation last Wednesday.
“I chose 20,000 for the goal because that was the high point in the city’s population back in 1971,” said Deakin. According to the 2011 census, Port Alberni’s population is at 17,743 people—a decrease of 12 per cent from 1971.
Deakin said that many elements have to be in place for the city to achieve that goal—not all of them that the city can control but all of them that impact the city’s success.
“Everything is one and all are interconnected. Social issues and our response or lack of response to them, the look of the community, the attitude about local government and small business, the way we talk about it, the online banter, our industries or lack of them, the weather… all of these impact our ability to attract good media, businesses, investment, new residents, new visitors and more,” he said.
Deakin would like to see a task force to focus on some of those issues, including Port Alberni’s health, safety and the city’s high crime, illiteracy and poverty rates.
The way residents see and talk about the city has an impact, Deakin added.
“I think we could take a promotion to a whole new level if we were indeed proud of Port Alberni.”
Millennials, as a bigger generation than even the baby boomers, remain a top target demographic for the city, he said.
According to Deakin, specific assignments for 2016 include the regional airport, an alternate route out of the Valley, the district energy system, graffiti removal, the acquisition of waterfront lands, rebranding, the Clutesi Haven RFP, a charette to visualize possible streetscape improvements to the Johnston Road corridor, the SPROUT program introduced to council by Uptown merchant Kevin Wright, the clarification of external marketing roles and business attracting and retention.
Deakin is asking for $26,200 for business development and $326,009 for economic development.
“In respect to business development, that account is used to bring new revenue sources into being,” said Deakin, adding that the line item was originally added to fund the startup of the community forest and is now funding the district energy project.
In 2015, Deakin was given $45,000 for business development. As the district energy project was not fully realized, only $34,557 was spent.
Of the $309,700 Deakin was given for economic development in 2015, only $275,747 was spent due to a delay in upgrading his assistant to full time.
Of the money he is asking for in 2016, 56 per cent is for salary for his two-person department and 34 per cent for marketing,
He has added another 7 percent for consulting and 3 per cent for miscellaneous expenses.
“What I’m proposing for this year is a decrease in the business development account and an increase in the marketing and advertising portion of the economic development account,” said Deakin.
That would show a decrease of 0.75 per cent in the tax requisition for those functions. Deakin’s budget from 2017 to 2020 amounts to an approximately one per cent increase in tax requisitions for business and economic development.
“The consulting portion would amount to $25,000 and be used for assisting in, for example, the next component of a high value biomass cluster or a global centre of excellence in forest firefighting,” said Deakin.
“I am also suggesting that some consulting be used to explore the opportunities afforded by a municipal bond.”
Municipal bonds are used by municipalities to fund capital expenditures.
“They are mostly issued by bigger cities but I do think it’s something we could look into and pursue.”