The Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA) was created to encourage and foster economic development across the entire Vancouver Island region. A registered non-government, non-profit society, the Alliance is funded entirely through membership dues, sponsorships and gate receipts from events organized by the group – most significantly the annual Island Economic Summit. This yearly meeting is a gathering of business, community and government leaders who come together to share ideas, ask questions, network, learn about new initiatives and explore business opportunities.
“We have zero government funding. We’re the only non-government organization dealing with the entire economy of Vancouver Island, and we think it’s important to have that separation,” explained George Hanson, VIEA’s President. “The Vancouver Island Economic Alliance is the only non-government organization on Vancouver Island that looks at the totality and sustainability of the entire Island’s economy. In part we’re a catalyst.”
The only non-government organization on Vancouver Island that looks at the totality and sustainability of the entire Island’s economy
“The function of our annual Summit is more than just an event for people to come to. It’s also about the networking, people coming together with new ideas. That’s what people tell us. We’re all about collaboration. The program, aside from the big name speakers, the program is designed to expose the people that attend to opportunities, trends, challenges and new ideas that are emerging or present in the grassroots marketplace.”
VIEA is operated and administered by Hanson and the organization’s Board of Directors, a group composed of individuals representing a wide range of business and economic development organizations. “VIEA has a board of directors of 15 and I run the organization and work with appropriate contractors on different things. It’s a lean organization. I describe VIEA often as an organization with a massive mandate and a microscopic budget.”
The primary function of the Alliance, as outlined on its website is to: (1) Promote a sustainable and diversified economy for all residents of Vancouver Island economic region. (2) Promote strong communities, First Nations, and careful stewardship of our natural resources. (3) Provide regional leadership for regional business attraction, retention and expansion and to (4) Promote regional initiatives that strengthen economic capacity.
“I believe that business on Vancouver Island is going to be driven long term by what I call niche opportunities. Vancouver Island is unique. We’re physically separated from the rest of Canada, we’re part of something bigger – we’re part of BC, we’re part of Canada – but we’re still physically and some ways emotionally separated. In some ways that uniqueness has been an advantage, certainly from the stand point of the lifestyle that we all enjoy,” he said.
“It’s also an advantage in the form on an identity all its own. People from across Canada, and from across the world for that matter, find this a very attractive place, and our economy is somewhat different and somewhat unique because of that. I believe that uniqueness positions us for what I’m calling Specialty Business Opportunity for Development, where investors increasingly find the business case for these niche products.”
The Island Economic Summit is one of VIEA’s most high profile undertakings. Held each year in Nanaimo, the day-long gathering is organized to provide a venue and forum for businesses and stakeholders on Vancouver Island to understand the State of the Island Economy. Youth, First Nations, Political Leaders, Business Leaders, Small Business and other inspirational leaders on Vancouver Island participate in championing actions which will position Vancouver Island in the Global Marketplace.
“The Summit brings people from Port Hardy to Victoria together in Nanaimo. Across all sectors, government, community, industries, small business people, individuals, technology, resource industries, you name it, all mixed together and talking,” Hanson said.
Hanson says resource-based industries, especially the forest industry, are a principle interest of the Alliance. “One of the things the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance is working on is to untangle the ‘Gordian Knot’ of limitation which is the forest industry. In a nutshell when we talk to people in wood manufacturing and forestry, if you boil it down to its essence, it is that those who have predictable access to fiber have very little incentive for capital investment. Those who are in the business of manufacturing who would have incentive to do all kinds of new and wonderful things with wood fiber don’t have a predicable access to that fiber,” he said.
“So, on the one hand you have supply that has no need or interest in capital investment in manufacturing, while on the other hand you have manufacturers who can’t get a predictable supply that would justify the investment. There’s a huge opportunity technologically for all kinds of different uses for wood fiber that we in the Island economy have not been able to access. It seems to us that it’s only a matter of time and work on that challenge to turn the key in that lock and completely change what we know as the forest industry on Vancouver Island.”
Hanson is optimistic about the future of the region’s business community and the health of its economic development, primarily because of the diverse nature of business on Vancouver Island. “Is Island business in the future going to be tech-driven, is it going to be tourism-driven, is it going to be value-added manufacturing or other resource industries? I think the answer is going to be yes! I think it’s going to be all of that. I also think there’s a huge opportunity for imagination in relationship to all of that.”
The future of Vancouver Island business and economic growth, according to Hanson, is going to be fuelled by the drive, creativity and inventiveness of the Island citizens and business leaders themselves. The same people VIEA was created to inspire inform and promote.