The Town of Ladysmith, local non-profit organizations and Stz’uminus First Nation will have access to $10 million in potential grant money from Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET).
The trust is a non-governmental body, formed in 2006 to aid economic development on north and central Vancouver Island with the help of $50-million in funding.
On Friday, the B.C. government announced it was contributing an additional $10 million to the fund after it had depleted over the years to around $3 million.
Mayor Aaron Stone sits is on the ICET board of directors as well as its Central South Island Regional Advisory Committee and said the additional funds is a “huge boost.”
“That gives us horizon well into the next term for municipal governments if not further,” he said.
“If we proved enough in that first 10 years to garner another $10-million dollars in investment, hopefully future governments will see that as a good economic development model.”
The maximum awarded now for infrastructure projects is $400,000 with any remaining funding coming from alternate sources, such as private investment.
Locally, the Ladysmith Maritime Society received $543,750 in ICET funding in 2012 to help construct a new visitor reception and recreation area. It also received $21,573 to complement the project by extending the dock by an additional 150 feet.
The resulting impact has meant hundreds of thousands of dollars in economic spin-off.
“If you look at the visitors centre and the Ladysmith Maritime Society’s numbers from before that was built and since all those dock improvements, just a huge benefit to the community,” Stone said.
More recently this month, Economic Development Cowichan announced it was receiving ICET support to develop a comprehensive tech strategy for the region to help establish competitive advantages of the valley.
Economic Development’s manager Amy Melmock said working collaboratively will show where there is room for growth.
“With a strong fibre optic network in place and designers, software developers, game creators and digital animators already gaining a foothold here, this study couldn’t be more timely,” said Melmock.
“Mapping existing tech companies and defining the types of new companies that are likely to evolve here are the first steps in the process.”
The new funding provided to ICET will go into its economic infrastructure program.
Line Robert, ICET CEO, said the program is focused on infrastructure that is incremental to the economy.
“Our focus is to be supporting growth sectors in the economy and emerging sectors of the economy,” he said.
“This additional $10 million is going to give us the opportunity to have a runway to plan forward and to be able to gauge now, in this next phase, where do we concentrate our energy in the region, what is it that the region needs in the next phase?”
Robert estimates future investment will be in technology, agrifoods and sectors that align with B.C.’s jobs plan.
In the past, other local projects supported by ICET have included the Cowichan Farm Incubator, Salish Sea Marine Trail and Cowichan Valley Trail Initiative and Chemainus Town Centre Waterwheel Square.
Stone said a key component of ICET is the partnerships that community leaders form being at the table together on funding decisions which “goes beyond the metrics you can actually measure but might be just as valuable as the dollars themselves.”
“I think it’s changed the siloing that happens where municipalities and regional areas are sort of fighting for investment dollars and started getting us thinking about regional collaboration and cooperation,” he said.
“Something here benefits all of Cowichan and south Nanaimo. The benefits in the Nanaimo airport have benefitted Ladysmith quite a bit.”
Last week’s funding announcement, was held in advance of the B.C. Liberal’s budget presentation and took place at the Nanaimo Port Authority’s welcome centre – build in part by ICET funding.
– With files from Karl Yu