Saturday, November 8, 2014

Major Industrial prospects and the small business environment makes for theme at campaign end

Twin narratives of economic development for the region made for a portion of the conversation in this week's municipal election campaign.

The focus of the potential of LNG development and all of the challenges that it may bring, was examined as was the need to try and offer some kind of assistance to the small business sector in the community.

The two topics provided for the current of the recent Mayoralty Election Forum at the Lester Centre, with the candidates providing variations of the same answers for the most part.  With the four candidates looking to stake out some space to provide their own interpretations of the same theme.

LNG Issues

When it came to the overview regarding the prospects for LNG Terminal development, much of the conversation was framed by the news cycle of recent weeks on the topic, with three key points providing for the background on the discussion.

The announcement of the pause by the BG Group for their proposed project at Ridley Island, the ongoing developments related to the Pacific NorthWest LNG plans for Lelu Island and the city's own ambitions for Lot 444 and the City's Legacy Corporation created to oversee the developments in that region.

Mr. Brain addressed the issue of LNG as a means of diversifying the local economy, adding it as a mechanism for the local economy. Making mention as to how if LNG doesn't go ahead, then something else would follow, he outlined how the City would be looking to develop major industrial projects on City owned land.

He made mention of the prospect of LNG development for the Lot 444 area, suggesting that it could provide revenues for the City, as any potential revenues would not be capped by the Port.

Mr. Briglio approached the issue  framed more as an discussion as to what the City is going to do for itself, as opposed to putting their hand out to any business that plans to come to town, highlighting for him how that seems to be the message that the City appears to send out.  Observing for the audience that for many would be investors, there is a perception that Prince Rupert is the last place that anyone would want to do business in.

He pointed out that the BG group was but one group of many proposed for the area, and that there others.  Offering up his belief that the BG group was taking a cautious approach towards development and will make their decision, when they make their decision.

He then took the discussion on LNG towards, offering up his belief that regardless of how the LNG industry may or may not develop,  the City has to make their own decisions on how best to take our own destiny into our own hands.

Sheila Gordon Payne put the pause on the speculation over the BG pause for development, advising that the projects take years to develop and suggesting that people stop in at the newly opened BG offices, to seek out a wider overview of the plans from that company.

She spoke to the need of the City to remove any obstacles towards any development including LNG, and highlighted the potential of the employment levels that could come to the community should the LNG prospects take hold in the region.

She offered up the concept of welcoming LNG to the area, suggesting that the City work with the proponents to develop the industry and then they will in return work to help for shared benefits in the community.

However, like the majority of those on the topic, she didn't deliver any detailed overview as to the steps the City should take to deliver any form of LNG development to the region.

Mayor Jack Mussallem outlined that in some cases when it comes to the development of LNG that the ability of some of the current proponents to deliver is questionable.

A theme which led him to outline how the city had to decide not to be reliant on those industries, but to create its own opportunities, developing its own raw land resources and to determine what we want in this community and how it may affect the quality of life we have here.

During the course of the discussion during the Forum, Ms. Gordon-Payne raised the issue of the Lot 444 developments related to LNG and the workings of the Legacy Corporation. Including the hiring of Dr. Barb Faggetter, who has expressed opposition to the Lelu Island LNG proposal in the past, suggesting that the approach the city was taking was one that needs to be explained better.

As part of his response, the Mayor reviewed some of the recent developments on the Lot 444 issue, including the terms of the hiring of Dr. Barb Faggetter who has been tasked to review how development in that proposed site might impact on the area around that area.

He further added that the City would be holding a public information session and hearing related to development of the Lot 444 area. Adding that it would be up to the citizens to determine if they want a development to take place there.

Mr. Brain also had a short reply to Ms. Payne's questions on the Legacy Corporation and Lot 444,  comments which the Mayor took issue with suggesting that Mr. Brain had his facts wrong, an interjection and approach which the Forum moderator over ruled calling for the Mayor to respect of those at the table.

Returning to his Lot 444 comments, Mr. Brain suggested that the Legacy Corporation could be used to deliver General revenue, noting that Dr. Faggetter was hired through the Legacy Corporation  and that she would make her observations based on science and would deliver her review independently and objectively.

He suggested that some of the proposed LNG projects may go ahead and some may not, the key to make sure that percentages of that income start going into Legacy Funding.

For the most part, the full range of the LNG discussion, offered up mainly general observations on the nature of what the City could receive from the Industry, but less in detail what the candidates would see the City providing as far as a blue print for their planning on the issue.

Small Business Considerations

As for the topic of the Small Business sector and how the City should consider that theme, all candidates again stressed the need for an approach that would make for an easier path for current business owners and any new ones to come to develop their business.

For Sheila Gordon-Payne the topic provided for a few stumbles, first as she provided a fairly lengthy preamble before addressing the topic and then as she stopped at one point, appearing to collect her thoughts. Which considering the theme, was something that probably surprised many of those that were taking in the electoral forum.

As to her message, she observed many of the same concepts when it comes to small business as the others.

Calling for the need of the City for staff to work on the budget process, which would result in growth and the ability to stem the need for ever growing taxes.

Acknowledging that there are many small businesses that have stuck with the community through thick and thin and that they could find better times ahead as the local opportunities arrive and are taken advantage of.

Mayor Mussallem called Small Business the backbone of the community when you get away from the waterfront and the large scale projects.  He outlined how the City has been working to free up land for future development which could attract small business.

He made mention of the business facade program and some of the plans that staff are looking at for local business improvement and revitalization options.

He suggested that improving the quality of life in the community through investments in such things as the Recreation Centre and cultural options like the Lester Centre,  adds to the overall approach of the city, and  is one which might help to attract small business to the region.

Lee Brain outlined how he had consulted and acknowledged small business owners as he created his platform for this campaign. Making mention of one company that he spoke to and recounting how no one from the City or Council had ever stopped in when they opened their doors.

With that in mind, Mr. Brain called for a more welcoming environment for small business, suggesting a welcome package is required for the community. He offered up the Cash Mob concept as something for the city to consider.

Looking to have City council members go to new businesses to welcome them to the community and provide more information and support. Suggesting that it could be a way to improve the relationship between the City and small business.

He suggested the creation of a Small Business Task Force with small business owners and key stakeholders, which with Council would  address a number of issues such as employee poaching and succession planning for long time business owners.

He made note of the young people in the community that are creating business in the community and find ways to support their work and make things easier for them

Mr. Brain also highlighted the city policies that limit small business, pointing towards such inefficiencies in local procedures as permits and taxes on small business that don't show a supportive nature to the sector.

Tony Briglio called on his experience in finance when it comes to small business. Touching on the nature of the restrictive bylaws that are in place and the need to move away from them, highlighting how they work against small business operators.

He suggested that the City doesn't have to recreate the wheel, looking to such places as Prince George where there is a can do attitude and approach to small business. Mr. Briglio made mention of the lack of incentives for local business in a number areas, in particular when it comes to making their business look better.

He offered up the concept that at the moment there is no incentive for business in town to make renovations and improvements, suggesting that the City put in place a better system, which would see the assessed value of a property to be considered at the point of the start of renovation, not after it is completed, a prospect that was well received.

However, as he delivered his final point, his phrasing of that concept, as one of not raping the cash cow, made for an interesting silence among the crowd.

The Mayor offered up a short rebuttal on the improvements theme, advising that some of those incentives are in place at the moment. He also put a target on the plans of Mr. Brain, speaking to his many options which he called good ideas, but making a comment related to his lack of experience  and how there is no time for any learning curve. Mentioning that Council wouldn't have time to mentor him on how to be Mayor, thoughts not well received by the crowd.

Sheila Gordon-Payne also made use of the rebuttal period on the small business theme, to comment to the number of empty store fronts downtown and how we may not see a return of the shops of the past return. She offered up the observation we all have new ways to shop now and how the downtown area may have to redevelop its purpose, with the downtown area seeking a new direction.

Calling attention to such new storefront operations for the new offices of the LNG industry as part of that new direction.  She also reviewed the need to be inviting and respectful to any new business that approaches City Hall.

Advising that the less obstacles that are put in the way, the better it is for the community.

The two themes do make for an interesting study when it comes to the limitations of what the City can actually do on either topic.

On LNG, any investment decisions will obviously be made in far off board rooms of companies in distant locations, with the City but a bit player in the grand scheme of any final investment decisions.

Other than not making for too many roadblocks for development, it would seem that there's not much for the City to do at this point other than to watch with interest and try to capitalize on the revenue streams should they arrive, while tackling the challenges that will be part of the process should the industry ever take off in the region.

As for Small business, much of the current situation in the city was created years ago, first when Terrace began attracting the larger Box Store types of commercial options, providing the magnet for traffic down Highway 16.

With few of those larger options having yet to arrive in Prince Rupert,  that hit the road to go shopping situation, in one that has not been stemmed over the last decade.

Along with those Terrace options and the growing reliance on Internet portals for shopping, one really wonders what, other than reducing the tax load and the nature of red tape, that City council could do to change that dynamic.

Other than to find ways to help the region grow economically, increase the population and create a demand for the types of stores that lure Rupertites down the highway.

While the two themes make for good discussion topics, results are not quiet as easy to deliver.

Which candidate is perceived as offering the best path forward and how the City can best address the issues related to those concerns, will be among the key aspects for those casting their votes in the Municipal vote of November 15th.

Those who have access to CityWest's Cable Ten programming can relive the discussion points of last weeks forums, with a replay planned for this evening at 6 PM and again on Wednesday, November 12th.

For more items related to the 2014 Municipal Election campaign see our archive page here.

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