First joint economic development meeting considered a positive step

Ladysmith council, the LDBA and the Chamber of Commerce are meeting to collectively look at economic development in Ladysmith.

It was only the first meeting, but a recent joint meeting between Ladysmith council, the Ladysmith Downtown Business Association and the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce is being hailed as a positive step on the path to finding solutions for economic development in the community.

Town council and the directors from the Ladysmith Downtown Business Association (LDBA) and the Chamber of Commerce met July 24 to brainstorm about economic development. The groups agreed to hold more meetings and to invite other parties to participate.

“It was kind of a first of two or three meetings for developing ideas, brainstorming items of economic development in Ladysmith,” said Chamber of Commerce president Rob Waters. “All three groups that were present are concerned about the economic health of our community.”

Waters feels the meeting, which was facilitated by city manager Ruth Malli, was a step in the right direction.

“Any meeting that brings the three organizations together is a positive step,” he said. “We’re all concerned about the economic welfare of our community. The fact that there are vacant storefronts is concerning, but we are not the only community experiencing that.

“There are some good news stories coming out of Ladysmith as well, such as the potential new brew pub that is going through approvals.”

After Mayor Rob Hutchins spoke about the major community initiatives currently underway or planned for Ladysmith, the representatives from the LDBA and the Chamber of Commerce participated in brainstorming sessions and generated ideas and suggestions for what a strong Ladysmith economy would look like.

Some of these suggestions for what would be included in a successful Ladysmith economy include: an RV park, good jobs that can support a family, niche markets, a defined identity, a strong waterfront community, sports tourism, transportation, a hotel, jobs for young people, restaurants that stay open past 9 p.m., and a policy and regulatory environment that encourages a sustainable economy.

When asked to identify things that are being done right in Ladysmith, participants mentioned success in acquiring grant funding, the Festival of Lights, heritage buildings downtown, a strong community, a council that is committed to the community, and groups collaborating together for the same purpose, among others.

Waters felt good coming out of the meeting.

“I was, as president of the Chamber of Commerce, concerned about what short-term measures we can jointly develop that can assist our community,” he said, noting the three organizations have already worked together on the 10 Per Cent Shift campaign to encourage residents to shift 10 per cent of their current spending to local businesses. “I’m certainly looking forward to the next session.”

LDBA president Lesley Parent says the association’s directors generally felt the meeting was a positive step as well.

“I have to say it was very positive,” she said. “We’re looking forward to working with the Town and the Chamber of Commerce to come up with solutions. We definitely left [the meeting] feeling hopeful and positive because we all believe in our town and that we want to see it prosper. There are businesses that have been in Ladysmith for 30-plus years, and those businesses are still here and there’s a reason for that.”

Parent hopes this meeting and the subsequent meetings that are proposed will help strengthen ties between the organizations.

“I think for us, it would lead to a closer working relationship with the Town and the Chamber because we all want the same thing,” she said. “I think communication between us, the Town and the Chamber is a real step forward and a positive.”

The LDBA wants all businesses in Ladysmith to thrive, not just those that are downtown, emphasized Parent.

“Everything affects the whole business community,” she said. “We also have quite a few associate members who aren’t in the downtown core, so it’s Ladysmith as a whole.”

The three groups committed to having followup meetings, and they would like to bring some other players to the table, such as key sectors that may not have been represented at the initial meeting and representatives from the Stz’uminus First Nation.

Hutchins says they hope to hold their next meeting either the last week of August or the first week of September.

“I guess the outcome ideally is collective action by the various agencies or entities to ensure we have the best practices and the best supports in place to ensure the viability of small and large business in our community,” said Hutchins. “That includes everything to ensure we have the appropriate mentorship for new businesses to help provide for their success, and to ensure our community is the most attractive place it can be in terms of sprucing up First Avenue — we’re looking at incentives for façade improvements.

“The business core is the living room of our community — it’s where we celebrate together, where we break bread together and where we parade, so it’s a vital core of a healthy community.”

Hutchins thought the meeting was very important.

“Everybody around the table was wanting to roll up their sleeves and commit the time to establish priorities for moving forward,” he said. “We have a solid foundation, and we just have to make sure we continue to strengthen that foundation.”

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