Name: Aaron Stone
Occupation: President/GM – Uforik Computers Inc. | President – Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce | Director – Ladysmith and District Credit Union
I am a husband and father, foster parent, entrepreneur, and community advocate. I have a keen sense of the issues we face and the actions we can take to address them. I am working to enable economic growth throughout our community and to improve the welfare of all of our citizens. Open, hard working and accountable, I believe that connecting with people on a meaningful level is the top priority in developing a shared vision for our future.
In my career, I have been a 16 year old gas station manager, attending high school while managing Payless (now Shell) and a top salesperson, merchandiser and finally sales trainer at Future Shop into my early 20s. In the late 90s I served as Vice President of Business Development for Global Media, pioneering new technologies for entertainment distribution and marketing online. I then served as the Director of Interactive Technology and Marketing for the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies developing interactive customer marketing and sponsorship opportunities for pro sports. In the spring of 2003 after various consulting jobs with professional sports and marketing companies throughout the US, I ‘retired’ to Ladysmith to be close to my family (in particular my Grandparents). Just turning 29, I quickly got bored.
In the fall of 2003, I founded Uforik Computers and embarked on the journey you find me on today. After investing several years in my young family and growing our business, I started to become heavily involved in our community development. From School PAC Co-Chair and key member of the Ladysmith Working Group on schools, to Director and later President of the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce, and becoming a Director with the Ladysmith and District Credit Union, I have fostered rapid and positive growth in every venture of my professional life. I intend to bring this culture of progress and success to our municipal government.
Why are you running for public office?
Ladysmith is my passion and I am the right person to help us find and achieve a shared vision for our community. I believe that we can become a world-class example of what a small town should be. My experience in business development at home and abroad has given me the unique perspective, skill-set and insight that will allow us to overcome obstacles and realize the amazing potential our town offers. We are entering an exciting time for Ladysmith. I will work hard to maximize the return on the many exciting opportunities that are in front of us.
We are uniquely blessed with not only one great opportunity, but several. We have our amazing setting, nestled in a hub of access to the best that Vancouver Island has to offer. Residents and visitors alike will enjoy our historic downtown, waterfront area and best in class business, recreation and culture opportunities. I will facilitate the process as an advocate for our community at home and a spokesman for investment in Ladysmith abroad. We will become known as a most desirable place to grow up, work, live, start a business and retire.
What are your top three issues and how do you plan to tackle these issues, if elected?
Economic Development – First Avenue and beyond
First Avenue and our downtown core is of special interest to me. As a veteran business owner on First Avenue I see the strengths and weaknesses of our downtown district every day. Like everyone else, I see the aging sidewalks and the empty storefronts; however, I also see parking spaces, stores and restaurants filled with shoppers during the peak times.
We are uniquely gifted with our historic and appealing downtown, valuable industrial space, as well as high exposure commercial opportunities along the highway near Ludlow Rd. and at Coronation Mall. We will take a greater, more supportive role in identifying, targeting and marketing these opportunities. In doing so, we will add to the valuable local employment base in our community by bringing good, stable jobs to our economy as well as increase our net tax revenues; all without passing any additional burden on to our current businesses and residents. There are also many additional business development opportunities within the OCP (Official Community Plan) framework we already have in place. We need to work together as a community and council to develop a focused plan to address this potential moving forward.
This is a top-level view of the priorities and actions we can take in the near term to reinvigorate investment in Ladysmith. This is a great area of opportunity and potential growth for our local economy and employment base. My background in business development and marketing has provided a unique insight into the challenges and potential contained within Ladysmith. Through the right pieces of engagement, cooperation and action at various levels we can kick-start the investment we need. I look forward to enabling our business leaders with the tools, support and resources that are required to make this happen.
Our Waterfront Area Opportunity
The vast potential of the waterfront area is often discussed but underserved by progress. By collecting relevant and timely feedback, and engaging in a renewed visioning process for how our lands between the harbour and the highway should look, we will develop a focused plan to achieve our shared vision.
There is new, more accurate information available to us about the environmental issues related to Slack Point and how we may deal with them. Needless to say, none of these remedies would be inexpensive or easy. However with the certainty we now have and the cooperation of local, First Nation, regional, provincial, federal governments, and the development community, we can make rapid progress and get to work.
The vision I wish to share for the waterfront is one of an enriching experience for our entire community. What is most important is to engage our local government together with our citizens to express the collective vision of what we want our waterfront to be. This is a discussion that needs to happen between ALL of us. This is the perfect chance for us to engage in a meaningful way and build something better. We need to update our plans and take action starting today.
Municipal Transparency and Access
My goal is to create a culture of transparency, engagement, cooperation and open access within our municipal government. With a progressive and inclusive attitude, we will create a meaningful and action oriented dialogue within our community. Our elected representatives, town staff, citizens and business professionals will have a real opportunity to create a plan for our future that we can all be excited about.
At city hall, we will take steps to improve communication such as broadcasting and archiving our public meetings in entirety, using social media to push information to our citizens, and a schedule of regular town hall meetings to share our progress and capture the feedback on the plans we have developed together. This effort will help ensure our team and our community share an informed and realistic perspective on our opportunities and how we intend to act on this potential.
What does your ideal Ladysmith look like?
I see a thriving First Avenue, full of energy, culture and commerce, where you can find the goods and services you need from day to day as well as that special something or experience you desire. I see young families and recent retirees with great business ideas, having found just the right home for their venture, working hard to achieve their dreams. I see continued improvements in our downtown infrastructure and amenities, from sidewalks and signage to restrooms and parking, making it friendlier for our citizens and visitors alike. I see our youth, gainfully employed as well as entertained by the business mix we’ve helped attract and enhance. I see a thriving local business and service community, enhancing the lifestyle we all share.
I imagine an amazing mixed use plan taking shape on the waterfront, where we’ve found the right mix of commercial, residential and accommodations, with public park spaces, pathways and access to ensure we all enjoy it as much as our visitors. I see a cultural and visitor’s centre adorned with celebrations of our Stz’uminus First Nation and our hard-working mining and forestry past. I believe in a cultural experience that stimulates our senses and celebrates the diverse nature of our region. Presenting our world class Ladysmith and Stz’uminus artists and musicians front and center at every opportunity, we set the standard with our local cultural experience.
I see more marina space for residents and travellers to enjoy the largely untapped recreation and adventure opportunities offered via our harbour. I see divers returning to the docks and kayakers heading out for an evening paddle. I also see neighbourhoods that feel like neighbourhoods, where we carefully consider the location and layout of our plans to ensure a connected, safe and enjoyable place to live and play for everyone.
I also see less ‘exciting’ things such as a solid infrastructure framework and plan, where we are out ahead of our challenges with water and sewer systems, ensuring we maintain the required investments while planning for our future security. I see a growing south end industrial opportunity; where we can attract valuable medium and heavy industrial enterprise to our town with the jobs, tax income and security they provide. I see jobs and real economic development.
There is a vision for Ladysmith that we can all share. Through open communication and inclusive engagement we can quickly develop a plan that can achieve that shared vision. Ladysmith can be the most vibrant, friendly, successful and comfortable place for ALL of us to live. We can achieve our goals for the future.
How do you plan to manage taxes and spending?
If we are to grow and reinvigorate our community in a responsible way, we have to set limits. As a result, this means that we need to set our expectations accordingly. I can make a long list of dream projects I would love to bring to our community. However, this money has to come from somewhere. So, we need to engage our community to set the priorities and lay out the plan together. It starts with a shared visioning process but always ends with, “Where does the money come from?”
I understand that people don’t want higher taxes and in fact many complain that taxes are already too high. However, it serves to recognize the relationship between our hopes and dreams, and the cost to achieve those dreams. I want to have the conversation about the key items we want to see happen for our community and how we can address the costs. It may be grants; it may be cooperative ventures between our various levels of government; it may be in partnership with our Stz’uminus First Nation neighbours and our community/business groups. In many cases it will be through the coordination of all of these efforts that we will find success. There are many pieces to this puzzle and being as open as possible will allow us to find a path that we are all comfortable with.
We also need to get more from what we have. This means asking hard questions about how we operate as an organization to find efficiencies where possible. I have heard the chatter about salaries and expenses, and I’m not going to shy away from the conversation. We need to analyze the situation and make decisions that benefit our community. We are ALL going to be working harder to maximize the return on our tax dollars. I can assure you of that.
It would be irresponsible promise broad tax cuts to residents or business. There are too many funding pressures on municipalities in BC and if we want to move forward rapidly we have to find a balance. I can assure you however, that the implications of our plans, and the spending of our tax dollars will be shared, well discussed and informed. There is no need to be elusive about where our tax dollars go. If we are open and accountable to a shared plan, there should be no need for surprises.
What are your thoughts on development and growth in Ladysmith?
I think that in our current place and time, we need to focus on the enhancement of our downtown core and the yet unrealized potential of our south end industrial lands, the residential areas already identified in our Official Community Plan and of course, our amazing waterfront opportunity.
There are a lot of investments required to make sure we prepare for the future when looking at infrastructure planning. We have to keep a keen eye on the roadmap of the future we envision. This may mean making a greater investment today to accommodate that future. This includes enhancing our water supply, dealing with our aging sewers/solid waste treatment, storm drains, roadways, sidewalks and more. We need to be mindful of the relationship between new development and the funding we require to complete all of these projects.
Responsible development (and associated fees) can provide revenue sources that help fund of our required investments in infrastructure and other projects. Without these, the majority of the burden is passed on to our existing property owners through taxation. Again it is about a balanced and progressive approach that focuses on educating our citizens, engaging and understanding feedback, and making a solid plan for the future. This can only be achieved by working together.
What do you think it takes to lead Ladysmith?
I believe it is time for us to start with a municipal government that exhibits a fresh, open and inclusive attitude. An attitude not based on years of bureaucratic ‘experience’ where we often end up with business as usual, but based on a developing culture of success and progress. With a forward thinking and solution-oriented council, we can overcome the challenges we face, while taking full advantage of the opportunities on the horizon. It is a time for change. It is a time for action. I believe our coming leadership has a chance to do something special. I am the right candidate to lead this team and our community to realize the brightest vision for our future.
How long have you lived in the Ladysmith area?
11 years this time and all but nine years of my youth. 28 years in total.
How many council meetings have you been to in the last six months?
I took the summer off. Maybe five or six?