Mark Laver started as Castlegar and District’s economic development manager at the end of November 2017. Photo: Chelsea Novak

Castlegar economic development program helping businesses succeed

First year of program full of accomplishments

With a little more than a year under its belt and a growing list of accomplishments, the Castlegar and District Economic Development program is off to a good start.

The program was years in the making and is funded by the City of Castlegar, Regional District of Central Kootenay Areas I and J and the Columbia Basin Trust. It was set up as a three-year pilot project, but the office is hoping its success will translate to a permanent program.

“This is like building a business from the ground up,” explains manager Mark Laver.

“A lot of the focus the first year has been on creating the necessary marketing documents to positively show the city as an attractive and vibrant place that people want to move to and businesses want to come to.”

Marketing projects include brochures, magazine features, a fact guide, a Twitter account listing businesses for sale, a newsletter, webpage, postcard campaigns and the Castlegar Explorers App.

Laver is regularly fielding queries from people looking to either purchase or start a business in the area.

There have been more than 70 leads over the past year. Some of those inquirers have opened businesses in town or are about to in the coming months.

“There is an across-the-board range,” said Laver. “Some are big, some are small.”

One of those big leads is a Fortune 50 company that is looking around.

Successes include a financial services company, a micro brewery, cannabis stores, a new cafe downtown and Revival Boutique.

One of the major projects of the past year was a gap analysis report looking at what businesses the community wanted to see come to the area.

Another accomplishment was setting up an information booth at the West Kootenay Regional Airport. The project is a joint effort with Destination Castlegar. The booth features brochures and information on West Kootenay businesses and volunteers to answer questions about the area.

Supporting business retention and stakeholder engagement is also a priority for the office.

RELATED: Castlegar business owners report highest optimism in 3 years

New projects this year include creating a forestry advisory council and technology advisory council, a Stanley Humphries Secondary School technology trip, and a coding club for Robson Community School.

Future events include a natural disaster forum and the State of the Kootenays: An Economic Update signature event.

Castlegar businessman Chris Sykes has been part of devoloping the project from the beginning. He chairs the Chamber of Commerce’s economic development committee.

“We consider this a success,” said Sykes. “What we are eyeing now is the future — how we move forward.”

Sykes says by creating the economic development program, Castlegar is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the growing economy in the province.

Chamber of Commerce executive director Tammy Verigin-Burk says people around the province are looking at Castlegar’s model for economic development and the partnership with both the chamber and tourism through Destination Castlegar.

“Having the economic development program and tourism here [at the chamber] creates a synergy,” added Sykes. “And it is being noticed in this province.”

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