By Brian Lee
Up and down the Coast, one of the most consistently touted phrases in the recent election was "economic development." It’s funny because, only four years ago, development was a bad word. Most folks on the Coast thought there was too much of it or it was occurring too fast. Now that the little boom is a distant memory, it seems we’re back to where we were before. We just have more idle excavators.
Winter now means that, before you visit a business on, say, a Tuesday, you check to make sure they will be open. We also accept that a dinner outing is often spent dining eerily alone in a room of empty tables. So we put our heads together to attract what we once resisted.
But we should be realistic about what we can achieve — we’re stuck waiting for a looseing of purse strings just like everybone else. One thing we can count on is that Sunshine Coast economics is pretty simple — when times are good, more money travels to Langdale than to Horseshoe Bay. Now that times have soured, we can only control part of that equation.
It doesn’t matter how much effort we invest in developing our economy if we turn around and carry that money back off the Coast and hand it to the Kirkland family. I’ll go on record and say I’m opposed to big box stores coming to the Coast. You only need to drive through Kelowna to see how the character of the Sunshine Coast Highway would dissolve into a corporate sign field and expansive parking lots. But even though they might squelch our already fragile retail environment, the big boxes would hire local people and pay local taxes. In turn, the money that would have otherwise made the one-way trip on the ferry would filter back into our local economy and support our infrastructure.
We all have our reasons why we travel off-Coast to go shopping. Sometimes it’s a cost savings or sometimes it’s better selection but, every time we do, we’re plucking a feather from our own backside. And it’s even more important to shop at home in the winter because of a few inescapable facts about our future economy.
One is that it will rely on growth from an influx of aging boomers. That’s good but it carries at least one hazard — though retirees have money and spend it, many don’t stick around for the winter. I can’t blame them for that but it means the differences between the seasonal peaks and troughs should continue to grow.
Ask just about any business owner — retail or hospitality especially — and they’ll say they just hope to break even through winter. Many will also tell you it may soon be impossible to "keep the lights on year-round." That may mean that if there’s three or four choices for a dinner outing right now, it might drop to two. Or one.
The reality is that Pender Harbour and Egmont as we know it could cease to exist outside of the summer. There will still be people here but little else.
So this season, let’s make the effort to give local businesses a reason to keep the lights on for us.