I realize I have not written on this blog since March 31st. Reyna Seabrook, our Communication Officer, has kept everybody updated with Council meeting highlights, though, and for this I am thankful. Reyna is an excellent communicator and assistant and is engaged in a variety of activities within the District, including involvement in Economic Development, First Nations, and Corporate Planning. She is preparing the District's Annual Report, which is due by June 30th, according to legislation.
The reason I have not written much recently is that I have been busy on a professional and personal level, and while this is not the venue for personal bragging, I am happy to report that I have just purchased a new home in the beautiful and serene Sageglen neighbourhood. Not all work is completed yet, but certainly we feel more and more at home in beautiful Lake Country. However, it is my busy life at work that I wish to talk about.
The focus of this month has been threefold: economic development and tourism, social development, and organizational excellence. Today I wish to ponder out loud on the meaning of growth and progress in a local government environment, but more importantly, in our community.
One of the areas we have been proactively focussing on in the last year is economic development. Much has happened in a year but in a nutshell we are trying to accomplish three main objectives and goals: a) full recognition of the name and brand of Lake Country (now that we have a brand); b) full development of the Town Centre; and c) streamlining of all development processes and procedures in order to attract good investment in town.
The brand work and recognition of the name Lake Country in its own right is beginning to bring fruits to the community. The new logo and tagline have been praised by many and are beginning to make an impact in many places. For instance, specialized in business and tourism publications have noticed the new logo and have given us space at a reduced rate to tell the story and the beauty of Lake Country. A marketing firm from Vancouver has given us free banner stands in exchange for the use of our logo as an example of successful branding in their marketing efforts (visit their website to see what I mean: it's very nice). The 2011 Lake Country Community Guide was the first local publication to use our logo on its cover, and its story on building Main Street captures the full vision of what we are trying to accomplish. We just entered into an agreement with the Chamber of Commerce for the distribution of the logo to its members for marketing purposes. And finally, we are working on a virtual community portal to showcase Lake Country to the world. Those are few examples of what is happening with the brand and I wish to take this opportunity to thank all those who have participated in the vision of creating a brand and to our staff, which is "making it happen".
But branding has a meaning only if it is associated to concrete results. Main Street, or what we at the District call the Town Centre, is the main focus of our efforts, although, in general, we are working on attracting investors in all areas identified as growth areas in our new Official Community Plan. First of all, we have taken a more proactive approach in engaging the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission. This is a regional function that all of us, as taxpayers, contribute to. I had meetings with Robert Fine, its Executive Director, and we are enjoying some results. For instance, we sent Mark Koch, our Manager of Development Services and Economic Development Officer, to the Hotel Association Conference in order to find leads for a first class accommodation on Lake Country's Main Street. There are a couple of leads now on which Mark is working. Through the Commission, we were put in touch with a company wishing to relocate to Lake Country. This company, which is already in the Okanagan, employees 65 people and they are looking at Lake Country for its quality of life and potential. But the best news of all is that we have just issued a Development Permit for the construction of a branch of the Toronto Dominion Bank on Main Street. It took a few months and a few meetings, a bit of lobbying and a bit of bragging, and a bit of vision by all involved, from Council to staff, from the Developer to TD Bank (the client), but now we can say that the first development on Main Street is happening and we will have a branch of the TD Bank in Lake Country by the Spring of 2012. Finally, there are other active commercial and residential rezoning and development applications and in the next few weeks we hope to finalize them, and next week I have another meeting on a potential proposal for Main Street again.
However, I believe that the most critical piece of this flurry of activities will have to be the streamlining of all development processes and procedures in order to attract good investment in town. I heard too many times that Lake Country is not open for business because our development times and costs are too cumbersome and too high. I do not believe so as I compare to Kelowna and Vernon, but we can certainly improve it and become more competitive and be the leading 'Open for Business' community in the Central Okanagan. We have begun the process by eliminating some procedures, which were approved by Council at the last Council meeting. This will shorten somewhat the process to a more reasonable time. However, I am going to propose Council that we form a Streamlining Task Force with the participation of the business and development community, to review all of the bylaws affecting development and create the edge of competitiveness we are looking for.
I could go on and on, but the final thought I have in all of this is: it takes time for these things to happen (and a bit of vision). But I believe that we are on the right track and that in a not too distant future we will see the full ripened fruits of our labour. Stick with us and you shall see.