Is talent the future of business in the Comox Valley?

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Two items in this post about the Comox Valley’s economy. First item: In January the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted the “Eyes on the Future” luncheon. MNP Senior Economist Susan Mowbray referenced three growth opportunities for the Comox Valley. Two were old school (recreation, retirement services). The third: the “knowledge sector.”

Item two: Mowbray said the Comox Valley is growing faster than anticipated. But we’re getting older. And research by the Comox Valley Social Planning Society says we lost about 200 young families last year. Our 3Rs economy (retail, retirement, recreation) isn’t generating the jobs and incomes to hold young families.

Beyond a cottage economy

The Comox Valley has been attracting a lot of smart, creative people for a long time. They’re the keys to any knowledge sector we may eventually create.

Many of us in this talent pool have created thriving businesses. The problem is that most of the businesses we’ve created are what I call “cottage businesses.” Take me for example. My business supports me and my family (now just a cat and a few birds in the yard). But I’m not employing any of my kids (caveat: I do hire my daughter to do contract design work, but that’s hardly going to provide a living for her). I’m not hiring the young talent that’s moving into the Valley. And I see my cottage business mirrored all over the Valley. Nice lifestyle. Not much of a job generator. Still, I’m part of the “knowledge sector.” We do have a knowledge industry here in the Comox Valley. Unfortunately, most of us in are content to tend to our cottage businesses, This is not enough. Our bona fide knowledge sector is not big enough to attract or retain significant numbers of young people. Yet.

We used to be hewers of wood and fishers of fish. Our resources were an endless sea of trees and finny creatures. We thought. We depleted those resources, and we’ve built a 3Rs replacement. It’s not. My belief is that we have what it takes for a new economy, built on knowledge. But for a knowledge industry to grow and thrive, we need to cultivate our new “greatest resource” – our local talent pool. That means, we need to start investing in our creatives and entrepreneurs.

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That’s Sonya Marie Jenssen, an international water expert from Norway, and Olya Grab, a NIC business student from the Ukraine. They’re at the #WeAreYQQ Winter Launch Party. Sonya sponsored a student.That student turned out to be Olya.These are young talents being attracted to the Comox Valley. What are we doing to nourish these talents, to help them flourish here?

Imagining a talent-driven economy (hint: it takes a community)

In 2015, with the help of the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce and a number of local businesses, I launched the #WeAreYQQ Project. We hosted public events, and lots of workshops. The most exciting part? To see that, a year later, it’s actually working. We’re growing entrepreneurs and startup businesses.

How? By emphasizing collaboration and common interest. Mutual aid for entrepreneurs. Sharing of information – and excitement.

It’s not new. And we didn’t invent it. Some things we thought we invented. Somethings we did invent. But the ethos of sharing and collaboration is endemic to what are called “startup communities.” Entrepreneurs benefit from being part of a supportive community – one that, ironically, helps us become more competitive by emphasizing collaboration.

Entrepreneur take risks. Having a community of support makes it easier to live with the “fail fast, learn fast” attitude it takes to succeed. A community that supports experimentation helps us to think BIGger. And thinking – and doing! – BIGger is very important if we’re to get past the problem of the 3R economy in the Comox Valley. (BTW thanks to Jayesh Parmar, CEO of Picatic and entrepreneur enthusiast for the “think BIGger” thing – it works!)

Punching above our weight

Mowbray is very interested in what we’re up to. She’s not alone. Collaboration is seen by many as the key to growing small economies and sectors. It’s what one of our 2015 speakers, Boris Mann, identified as a way that we, as small businesses and as a small community, could “punch above our weight.” By teaming up. Sharing. Mutual aid.

We’ll keep doing what’s working – hosting collaborative business development and marketing workshops. We’ll keep learning from other startup communities, fostering community and collaboration. And, we’ll keep trying new things as we play our part in making shift happen, a shift towards a talent-driven, or knowledge-based, economy. And yes, we’ll throw a few parties along the way. Because parties are important ways to get to know who we really are. It’s not all about work. Especially in a beautiful place like the Comox Valley.

If you’ve got a business you want to grow in the Comox Valley, you’re invited to join us. See weareyqq.ca/events for upcoming workshops and events. The only requirement? A willingness to be part of the solution – and an ethos of sharing your knowledge to help grow our entrepreneurial community.

FMI about what we’re up to, see makingshifthappencomoxvalley.ca or contact me directly.

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@hanspetermeyer on Twitter

ps. If you’re interested in what we’re up to, join the mailing list here. If you really like what we’re doing, join us as a Champion or Ambassador here. This is a grassroots initiative supported by Comox Valley business people who want to see our economy and our community thrive. We’re making shift happen, and we invite you to be part of the fun!