The new CEO of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation says Nanaimo has a story that needs to be told.
John Hankins, who started his new position Jan. 4 at NEDC, says the local economy can improve by sharing more of what Nanaimo has to offer.
“There’s some really good things going on here,” says Hankins. “We have some very good leading edge companies.”
Hankins says the tech industry incubator Square One “has been a tremendous success. The space is now full.”
There are now 8 companies employing 28 people at Square One and this kind of growth means the companies can hire more local employees.
This is all around good news to keep tech businesses in Nanaimo and to provide more employment for youth who would otherwise leave the city seeking employment elsewhere.
“These companies get to a certain size and we can seed them with the space,” says Hankins.
“They stay in the region. There’s VIU students coming out of university and they’re getting employed there.”
Hankins says people don’t want to leave Nanaimo seeking work but “they feel they have to.”
With the growth of incubating companies through Square One, there’s less chance of that having to happen for employees.
Hankins says he sees his role as CEO to connect businesses, help attract new companies to the region as well as grow existing companies.
“The key thing is obviously building on what’s already been done here. Our role is to be catalyst, attract development, investors and be a connector linking people together.”
He says what’s most important right now is to be a story teller to promote Nanaimo more to outsiders.
“We’re not telling the story that needs to be told,” he says. “Nanaimo is an untold story. The more we can tell our story, the better we can do.”
One way to do that is to show how attractive Nanaimo is with its lower housing costs and lower cost of living compared to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
“In terms of telling our story, it’s how we can position Nanaimo as an alternative to what Vancouver has,” says Hankins.
This makes Nanaimo a viable alternative for companies to locate in the region and have workers who can find affordable housing.
It also means telling the story of companies that are currently in the area and growing. One example is Tilray, which opened in the spring of 2014 near Duke Point, and is now hiring again.
“They chose here, they had other places they could go,” says Hankins. “We really did win hands down. There was real alignment to attract them here.”
Besides attracting businesses to industrial space, Henkins says Nanaimo has attractive office space that is very cost competitive compared to Vancouver.
Another way to tell Nanaimo’s story is to look at the different sectors Nanaimo is strong in or going to be strong in and use that in a way to talk to companies that might be a good fit, says Hankins.
NEDC is also looking at strengthening Nanaimo’s transportation to bring a fast foot passenger ferry to the city and work with the Nanaimo Port Authority to accomplish that.
“Our role will be to find the right company to put that forward,” says Hankins.
He says NEDC is also working with the U.S. consulate, headquartered out of Calgary, to visit in March regarding commercial services.
On May 19 the Conference Board of Canada is visiting Nanaimo to hold a Western Business Outlook Conference series that address issues and trends affecting Western Canada.
These types of events will help put Nanaimo on the map, says Hankins.
Prior to coming to Nanaimo, Hankins was vice-president of Calgary Economic Development (CED).
During his time there he was able to attract the Western division of Home Depot to locate in the area as well as the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which is considered the largest bank on the planet.