Mark Laver started as Castlegar & District’s new economic development manager at the end of November. (Chelsea Novak/Castlegar News)

Mark Laver started as Castlegar & District’s new economic development manager at the end of November. (Chelsea Novak/Castlegar News)

Castlegar & District’s new economic development manager has high hopes

Mark Laver started his three-year contract within a pilot program.

Castlegar & District’s new economic development manager has over 20 years of market research and competitive intelligence experience that he will bring to bear on attracting new businesses and skilled individuals to the area.

Mark Laver started his three-year contract within a pilot program in a partnership between the City of Castlegar, Area I, Area J and the Columbia Basin Trust at the end of November.

He came from Calgary, where he has been living on and off for 30 years, where he ran his own competitive intelligence company, Missile Competitive Intelligence Group, for four years.

“It’s helping other companies understand what their competitors are doing so that then they can plan strategically to outmaneuver them. It’s a matter of compiling a lot of information together and drawing conclusions about what they might be doing in the future,” explains Laver.

As an economic development manager, Laver will be able to use his research experience and his experience helping businesses grow to meet goals that have been set by the Castlegar and District Economic Development Steering Committee.

Laver has already started working toward those goals.

Monday there was the first of a series of focus groups with business groups in the city and district and Laver is conducting a survey with businesses and the public — residents from Castlegar and Areas I and J.

“Just to see what the people’s needs and wants are in regards to retail services,” says Laver. “So from my position, I can’t go out looking for businesses to locate here if people don’t want them.”

The survey is available at surveymonkey.com/r/SXVDBZK or a paper copy can be picked up from the Chamber of Commerce office.

Laver says he should have the results within a month.

“And we’ll start planning around which businesses to target to see if we can bring to the city,” he says.

Laver is working closely with the Castlegar & District Chamber of Commerce and works out of the Visitor Info Centre along with chamber employees.

He sees Castlegar as having a lot of opportunities right now.

“Realtors are selling houses, the businesses I go talk to, a lot of them say their sales are up year over year or just recently in the last quarter, so they’ve had good years,” he says. “So from that perspective there’s opportunity here and when you see empty spaces in terms of buildings for lease or houses for sale and empty lots for sale, then I see that as opportunity.”

Laver also says that lifestyle is a major asset for the area.

In fact, he applied for the economic development manager position after coming through the area on a bike ride between Salmo and Penticton over the summer.

“I loved the area, so I applied for a job here,” he says.

Following its second annual Business Walk, the Castlegar & District Chamber of Commerce found that employers reported a shortage of skilled and experienced labour.

Asked how he planned to address the problem, Laver said, “There are multiple ways to address that and I think it’s a matter of getting the information out to the people to bridge that gap.”

He said an example would be letting people know about the difference between housing prices in Vancouver and housing prices in our area. Castlegar and area also offer much shorter commute times on top of affordability.

“It’s about attracting them to the lifestyle and understanding that it’s affordable as well, and everything that you’ve got in the big city, you’ve got here too. You just don’t have 1,000 of them,” says Laver.

Another challenge when it comes to attracting skilled labourers to the area is finding employment opportunities for their partners.

Laver was also optimistic about addressing this challenge.

“I think with the way the world’s economy works today that people can find positions that would let them work remotely, more via teleconference type of a position, so … that’s not an issue that can’t be overcome,” he says.

Laver also says the area offers opportunities to “step outside the box and try something different” like opening a new business.

Anyone interested in learning more about running their own business might want to consider attending the upcoming Me Inc. Workshop put on by the Basin Business Advisors Program at the Castlegar & District Chamber of Commerce office on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

For more information or to register, visit eventbrite.ca/e/me-inc-workshop-february-27-2018-castlegar-bc-tickets-40801660866.