A draft economic development plan received a cool response from some city councillors after the lengthy document was presented on Tuesday.
The draft plan, which is to give the city goals to support and help grow the local economy over the next five years, was completed by Vancouver-based consulting firm FWCO Consultation Group. Close to 200 Yellowknife businesses were surveyed from November to January to help identify those goals.
The survey found that most respondents have a negative outlook on the city’s economy due to the expected closure of the territory’s diamond mines, according to FWCO president Ted Weicker.
Weicker said up to 94 per cent of the businesses surveyed say they expect their businesses to take a hit as the mines close over the next 15 years. The mineral sector represents about 35 per cent of the territory’s GDP.
“The City of Yellowknife needs to take an aggressive economic approach to developing economic development,” Weicker said at one point in his presentation. “There is a window before the mine closures are anticipated to occur. It is critically important that the city act during that time period.”
FWCO’s plan had been completed before the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to most government and private sector operations slowing or shutting down altogether.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has, and will likely continue to impact Yellowknife’s economy for some time,” states the government priorities committee memorandum from April 14.
“The necessary social distancing and self-isolation requirements have forced many businesses to close their storefronts, creating unprecedented financial strain on industry and local businesses alike. As a result, Administration will consider the implications of COVID-19 on implementation of the proposed actions outlined in the Strategy and adjust timelines as necessary.”
Weicker said the pandemic’s impact stresses the need for even greater focus on economic development.
“The impact of Covid-19 I think just increases the importance of putting a priority on economic development and doing whatever you can to get the economy moving again,” he said.
Among his recommendations were for council to focus on supporting small and medium-sized businesses, rather than trying to attract larger companies or multi-national corporations. He also recommended finding ways to “integrate” existing sectors such as the mineral and tourism businesses as a way to support the economy.
Not all councillors were on board with the result of the strategy.
“What I was really hoping for from a new strategy was new ideas,” said Coun. Julian Morse.
“Some visioning exercises for things that we could be promoting especially when it comes to diversification that are different than what we’re doing. I was hoping that we would maybe be able to bring in expertise that could give us advice, especially around things that aren’t things that the communities looked at, and are things that are outside of what we’ve considered already.
“I see this strategy as being very much just a reiteration of the existing strategy that may be a couple sort of new ideas here and there but not really.”
Coun. Stacie Smith, who is also a downtown business owner, said she was concerned that not much had changed since the last economic plan. She said she was unsure of what the new plan was proposing to do differently.
The plan is yet to be approved by city council at a regular council meeting.