Metro Vancouver Regional District to create new economic investment agency

Aug 3 2019, 3:38 am

There will be a new economic investment promotion service in Metro Vancouver, and this region-wide encompassing agency will be a new division of the regional district.

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Last week, Metro Vancouver Regional District’s board of directors approved the business plan of a new regional economic prosperity service with a mandate to create a regional brand to promote and attract strategic foreign investment.

The new organization will work with the public and private sector to identify investment priorities and to collect and analyze relevant data.

The ultimate goal is to catalyze economic growth and create new jobs, which will improve regional livability and affordability while also creating new tax revenue to help fund the construction and operation of public infrastructure.

“Metro Vancouver is consistently rated as one of the most desirable places to live – but issues like the disparity between residents’ incomes and housing prices threaten our long term sustainability,” said Metro Vancouver chair Sav Dhaliwal in a statement.

“Our aim is to enhance the region’s economic prosperity by helping our member jurisdictions attract the right kind of large scale investments, so that we may more fully realize our region’s vast potential as a great place to live and do business.”

The new agency aims to eliminate the current regional disfunction over attracting investments in a bid to have regional investment and tax revenue generated within their municipal jurisdictions.

There is a lack of collective thinking and cooperation from the region’s 23 separate municipal governments and jurisdictions, especially when it comes to economic investment.

For instance, new corporate jobs generated in downtown Vancouver provide employment opportunities for residents across the entire region, beyond the artificially-created municipal borders, but this perspective is not always shared by member municipalities due to narrower self-interests.

“Municipalities also compete with each other for investment and prioritize bringing investment to their local area if it can be accommodated,” reads a regional district staff report.

“This inherent competition is balanced with the need for municipalities to consider and recognize that investments elsewhere in the region can trigger important positive economic spillover effects into other parts of Metro Vancouver, as workers often live in adjacent municipalities to their place of employment and supply chains will be expanded across the region.”

The lack of regional cooperation is a major contributor to “Metro Vancouver’s economic underperformance,” and it also “sets our region apart from our competition — other prominent and large metropolitan areas across North America.”

Regional district staff point to regional economic agencies such as Toronto Global, Montreal International, Edmonton Global, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, and Metro Denver as examples to follow. These organizations represent municipalities across their region to ensure a coordinated approach to economic development.

With the regional district’s new agency, there will be one single voice to the global investment community to ensure the region is competitive with other world cities. The new agency will establish an alignment on regional priorities in terms of targeted economic sectors and clusters, reduce the complexity of the business environment for investors to navigate, create a unified marketing approach, and reduce the level of fragmented resourcing.

Mid-sized municipalities such as Richmond and Coquitlam have city departments that focus on performing local economic development activities, while Vancouver has a devoted agency — Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC) and Surrey Economic Development (Invest Surrey) — funded by the municipal government.

While VEC’s focus is on promoting Vancouver, its work has had a major spillover effect, and it has been the region’s de facto economic investment agency to a high degree.

VEC’s annual budget is about $3 million with 17 full-time staff, while Invest Surrey operates with $1 million for seven full-time staff. Furthermore, the VEC’s activities include foreign direct investment (FDI) attraction, domestic investment attraction, talent development, market research and intelligence, and analyzes international trade policy.

“Very few municipalities are focused on proactive FDI and international partnerships,” continues the report.

“Likely the reason few municipalities perform proactive attraction of FDI or substantial marketing and promotion in foreign or other Canadian jurisdictions is the significant costs and resources required to execute international activities.”

The regional district’s new service will use a governance and operating model similar to its National Zero Waste Council. It will have its own executive leadership that reports back to the region’s board of directors, and its operations will be rolled out over a five-year timeline.

It will have an annual budget of $400,000 in 2019 with two full-time staff, with incremental increases over the years, reaching $2.5 million in 2023 for about 12 full-time staff.

The original intention by the regional district was to establish the agency as an independent organization, but the startup costs were not deemed to be financially viable. The new yet-to-be-named agency will be based at the regional district’s headquarters at the Metrotower III office tower at Metropolis at Metrotown.

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Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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