Prosperity, sustainability and diversity: Reflections on business around Greater Victoria with Bruce Williams
In this podcast, Paul Holmes talks with Bruce Williams, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. Bruce’s longstanding career in broadcasting and his passionate commitment to driving engagement in the region has well-positioned him to face the challenges resulting from the pandemic.
Bruce shares how their organization has had to pivot by moving to online events but overall, he remains optimistic about the future of business on the Island. Bruce sheds light on the many opportunities within the region, specifically the leadership emanating from the emerging green economy.
Click here for the full transcript
Paul: Well, hey, speaking of your media experience, obviously, you had a very long career in broadcasting and for those who don’t know who Bruce Williams is, because you’ve been living under a rock on Vancouver Island for the last 30 years why don’t you tell us a little bit about that because I think that’s pretty cool.
Bruce: I came to the island when the television station that’s now CTV-2 was put on the air, and at the time it was owned by the company I worked for in Ontario, a company called Chum. Chum is the company that had Much Music and the Comedy Channel and City TV was a brand at the time, and I was working with one of their affiliates in Ontario, producing and hosting a morning show and doing community relations. So in working with Chum to re-format the station I was at got to know them a little bit. The announcement was made that this station here was going to be put on the air, and one of the Toronto guys that I’ve been working with, Clint Nickerson was being sent out here to be the news director, and I used to visit out here, so I sent him an email one day and said, “Hey, Clint you’re going to love Vancouver Island. It’s a beautiful place.” He said actually “Well, I am from there I was born and raised in Victoria. How do you know it?” “Oh, I have a buddy that I used to come out and visit quite often, and I kind of know the Island” and he said, “Do you want to move there?” “Yes, I do, as a matter of fact.”
Bruce: I was in London, Ontario for a long time.
Paul: It was in the 90s, right?
Bruce: This was in 2002, 2001 sorry.
Paul: Everybody from Ontario wanted to move to Vancouver Island at that time anyway right or still do, I guess.
Bruce: I think they do, yeah for the weather, if nothing else. Anyway, I took that call and as I say I was in London for a long time, at the time when they called, I was in Windsor, Ontario, which is a very kind and friendly place, it’s very hardcore industrial. It’s a little different culture. It’s quite American, it’s very close to Detroit.
Bruce: And I had gone there to try and help raise the fortunes of the station, which was going pretty well, so that’s another reason why they saw what I had done and they said “why don’t you come out here and help build this station?”
Paul: And they landed you in Nanaimo, right?
Bruce: I ended up in Nanaimo to be the manager for the Mid-North Island areas, and we decided to place the original Breakfast TV show called New Day out of Nanaimo, so that the station didn’t have the optic of being Victoria-centric, which it all been the issue for people who lived in the mid or North Island saying, “it’s all just Victoria, all everybody talks about Victoria.” So we did that from Nanaimo, we did a lot of outreach and we had reporters in different communities, Port Alberni, Campbell River, Comox, and a lot of that worked out of the bureau in Nanaimo that I managed. So did that, came back down here for a while, went back up there for a while, I became the weather guy, then started to do a daily gig on CFAX, which I was kind of trying to do from Nanaimo remotely, but it didn’t really work. So I came back down here and then I eventually tried to work myself off air because there were a lot of younger people that were waiting for the big break that I got years ago, and then I was declared to be past my expiry date, so I left.
Paul: Did they actually tell you? You’re past your expiry date….
Bruce: No, no, it was nothing like that. But yeah, I’d been in Ontario through radio and television and then made the move out here.
Paul: I’ve been told I have a face for radio.
Bruce: I’ve been told I have a voice for newspaper.
Paul: It was funny actually, I remember those days well. It was the New VI, right, and it was exciting because it was a stylish kind of cool hip sort of sort of format, and I remember actually going (you probably remember this well) I remember going to Nanaimo for New Years.
Bruce: Oh yeah.
Paul: And hanging out at the New Year’s party that was sponsored by the NewVI. We saw Hot Hot Heat in concert. And that was just so great.
Bruce: David Gogo, Randy Bachman.
Bruce: Wassabi Collective, yeah Loverboy. I coordinated a lot of that stuff, the logistics were quite breathtaking actually.
Paul: Oh boy, I bet. What a blast. I’m nostalgic looking back on that. It’s funny too because Victoria, we kind of live in this bubble right, government town. What’s past Shawnigan Lake, I don’t know? And you really felt like the island was an island. I think when you live in Nanaimo you always kind of do but when you live in Victoria, sometimes you’re like, “oh, I live in Victoria.” You don’t think of yourself as an Islander per se right. I think that was kind of the beginning of that change.
Bruce: You gravitate more to Vancouver when you’re living in Greater Victoria. I loved the mid Island. I lived in Nanoose Bay for a number of years on an acreage, it was charming, but I know every corner of this island. I always make the claim, I don’t think I could ever get lost on Vancouver, and you can drop me in the middle of any town or city, and I wouldn’t get lost. It was just a great opportunity to get to know everything, and a lot of really terrific people to connect with community organizations, and meet different clients.
Paul: It’s such a great island, my mom lived in Port Hardy for years, and so we got lots of time up and down the whole Island, friends from all over. Yeah, it’s so great. So after you were past your broadcasting best expiry date (haha) I know you did some work with the South Island Prosperity Project – are you still involved?
Bruce: No I’m not. The Chamber and SIP are members of each other’s organizations. So background on that, when I was still broadcasting, there was a committee of this chamber actually called The Greater Victoria Development Agency that was the seed that became South Island Prosperity Partnership. So I served on that committee as a volunteer here at the Chamber, when it was a committee of about 32 people. And then there were a number of us sitting around the table that thought, maybe we can make something out of this, so about eight of us withdrew and we created a separate board, and we wrote the by-laws and governance and a funding model and put it all in place and brought in the initial partners and launched the organization, appointed a board, and that board hired an executive director and off it went. So that was about two and a half years, I guess, before I left CTV. So when that announcement was made, they reached out to me almost right away and said, “Do you want to come back and help us? We need some growth. We need some engagement.” So I came back on a contract as the Director of Engagement for SIP and started engaging literally with some of the stakeholders in the economy. So South Island Prosperity is the economic development agency for the South Island region the 10 First Nations and the 13 municipalities.
Paul: Are all the municipalities members now?
Bruce: No, they’re not.
Paul: There’s a few that are not.
Bruce: There are two that are not and 9 out of the 10 First Nations are. So I was the guy that built those relationships, we brought them in, when I got there, the membership number was 27 when I left, it was 67.
Bruce: They just needed someone to go out and have those conversations because I helped start it I knew what it was all about, but there had never really been a collective effort in this region for economic development, which is to help existing businesses grow and attract new business from elsewhere.
Paul: It’s funny, I remember when the Chamber hired Dallas Gisalson to run GVDA Greater Victoria Development Agency. I sat down with him, I’m like, “what do you guys do?” I grew up here, and I really didn’t know, I mean, you hear about economic development as being like a thing and…Great, Victoria, we just didn’t do a lot of that before the Chamber initiative, right?
Bruce: Well, the 13 municipalities each have their own separate and unique culture and character, which is true I don’t care what anybody says we are one economy across 13 municipalities and 10 nations, it’s one economy, but there is a distinct difference between each one. So coming to recognize that was a part of creating what SIP was and became and still is for that matter, and they’re doing very important work right now, especially in the recovery and creating the resilience after all of this economic turmoil that we’ve been through. So they’re a distinct organization with a distinct purpose, it’s a little bit… I don’t mean this in a bad way, it’s a little bit dense for a lot of people to get their head around, so the easiest way to say it is, well, we help create jobs and bring new business…Grow the economy. That’s what it’s all about. So it’s a very important work, this region was the last center in Canada really to recover from the last downturn in ‘08/’09, slowest to recover because there was no concerted combined effort of collaboration like this that could create that kind of resilience needed. So we’re in much better shape to come out of Covid then we were in that downturn in ‘08/’09.
Paul: There’s going to be a lot of desperation for people to want to travel again when the (hopefully, knock on wood) vaccine is released and Victoria is probably going to be a destination, I think for a lot of those people. I know my initial plans when I can travel again are going to be in Canada and I think lot of people are thinking the same thing, right, so hopefully, we’ll really bounce back.
Bruce: And I use the term bounce forward instead of bounce back. Destination Greater Victoria is doing an amazing job on what they can to bring people here to keep that part of the economy alive. And we’re kind of a good winter destination for a lot of Canadians that can’t go to California or Arizona or Florida. They should come here yet, we don’t have snow, not all that cold, you can ride your bike, you can walk, you can golf, so this is a great destination for that. So that team has put together a really great program attracting people here, and it’s my understanding that a lot of the long-term rentals here over the winter period are booked. So as long as we can keep this under control and people can still have some access to restaurants and stores then that’s going to be a bit of a bump in the economy.
Paul: So wear your masks everybody and keep your social distance because we want to keep this economy alive. Awesome, so obviously now. Obviously now you are the new CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, not the first Bruce to fill that, to fill that role.
Bruce: And we had that conversation that when staff were going be told, I had said to the executive search and the board members that completed it, I said, so go into the meeting and tell them that the new CEO is a guy named Bruce, and he wears dark glasses, and his hair is turning gray. Bruce Carter?
Paul: I think you’re a little taller?
Bruce: I’m not taller than a lot of people.
Paul: You’re around the same…That’s funny. Yeah, I’ve known Bruce Carter for years as well. And actually, when he started with the chamber, I bought his little business, so yeah, we’ve known each other well for years, but yeah, and another great Bruce has come along, obviously, during a very strange time in history. It kind of reminds me of George W. Bush getting elected president and then 911 happening. You have this bold vision maybe for the future, and then suddenly you get side-swiped by an international crisis in this case. So how has that changed? How has your vision from when you stepped into the role change to where you’re seated right now?
Bruce: Well I kind of stepped in actually in the middle of it, because I started in June. Catherine Holt was here until June 15th, and then I came in and took over. So having this not being on the radar for me before any of Covid began, I didn’t really have a plan. So throughout the recruitment process and then since landing on the ground here, strategic planning, I think has been a big part of what’s going on. So the organization’s livelihood/revenue, if you will, is based mostly on membership fees paid by members and the proceeds from events. So events, not so much, not really happening, we’re now starting to get somewhat of a handle on what the membership renewal rate is going to be. No invoicing was done for April, May and June, simply because it would have been disrespectful for people to be managing what they were managing and suddenly get an invoice from the chamber.
Bruce: So we’ve started to pick up that invoicing again, and we continue to engage with members in online mixers and mingle events, and we’ve done some economic restart panels and small electoral candidate election panels, so we’re still engaging in that way, it’s just not in person, and the revenue that would normally be there is not present. On the other hand, not doing events means you don’t face the expense of staging the event, so the margins to be earned or not quite there, but it’ll come back. We’re projecting that by well not as, but people that we listen to are projecting that we should start to get back to some sense of engagement by spring, late spring, early summer, based again on, as you mentioned about the vaccine.
Bruce: Because the vaccine realistically isn’t going to be here until spring at the earliest, possibly summer. And what that will look like once the protocols are undertaken and the supply line to transport it and get it in place and then disperse it and arranged for the injections, if they’re going to be injections or is it a spray? We don’t know what it’s going to be. Everybody assumes it’s going to be a needle or an injection, not necessarily.
Paul: Right .Yeah. And I think the other thing that people assume is that they’ll get it on day one, and I don’t think that’s the case, I think if you’re young and healthy, you’re probably back of the line, unless you’re working in the medical field.
Bruce: Essential services will be first. Other than that I don’t know what it’s going to look like. If you have a family doctor, do you call the doctor and say, “hit me up, doc, I’m ready.” I don’t know what that whole distribution thing will be…
Paul: We’ll find out, I bet. But good thing we’re young and healthy, right?
Bruce: Well, healthy. I’m healthy. The other piece, you know that we look at through all of this is that when it happened, the government immediately started to roll out measures, and that’s not something that they made up on the spot right, so that planning was done well in advance. One of the issues in the United States has been that that stuff was abandoned and not kept active. Here in Canada, and in BC, we had the advantage of those protocols being in place, you just simply open the book and get started, so that’s all being worked on now, for the rolling out of the vaccine, so it’s in process, we don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I would imagine it’s probably within that same blueprint and framework that was established for the undertakings that were done to start managing the pandemic. I have great faith in the system, that’s going to be good for all of us.
Paul: Well, I just hope there is one, and I hope that it’s great, and I hope we can just put all this behind us and who doesn’t? It’s such a strange time to be alive, and I think most of us would just like to get back to something close to “normal” in heavy quotes, I guess.
Bruce: The “new normal.”
Paul: I’d like the old normal. 2019 didn’t seem that great at the time, but in comparison, it was actually pretty good.
Bruce: Yeah, I think one of the things about being in this kind of a crisis, if you will, is that with in every crisis there is opportunity, so we have opportunities to do things in a different way and in a better way. One thing that happened is that we realized how quickly the planet can heal itself, that the skies became more clearer, the water was clearer, the air was better. We realized that that is possible, and that’s one of their case to be made for that other new word ‘pivot’ everybody talks about into what the green and sustainable economy will look like. And not only is it better for the planet, but the other side effect is that it’s really good for business to be undertaking things in a new fashion of that type represents the number I’ve heard most often is a 40 trillion dollar opportunity in the worldwide economy, for us to shift over into a more sustainable and green model. So that’s of course being assessed by everybody, it’s better for the planet, and quite honestly, for the organizations and corporations that are going to do it, it will save them money, and they have to move a little bit, but going forward, it will save them money.
Paul: Well, we have companies that innovate like that, here in the Greater Victoria, do we not?
Bruce: Absolutely, and there’s lots of them out there, and all the companies that are even seen as be fairly heavy industrial are working all the time to green themselves because that’s what’s going to be sustainable for their model too. So they all work very, very hard on that. Municipalities, the province, the feds, all put things in place that some of it aligns and some of good is different, there’s still resistance from some people, which is unfortunate, but in a democracy, we will work together to make this happen, but I think there’s a great opportunity out there for people to re-invent their own business, the degree of stuff that’s going to become digital, if it hasn’t already, and online can provide a little more reliable means of people getting their hands on what they need, certainly for products and goods, services not so much. Certaintly not physical services, you can’t virtually fix your dishwasher, but you can virtually do your finances and your financial planning, and a lot of admin work that’s associated with a lot of what people do that can all be done virtually.
Paul: There’s a huge shift to work from home, and I think in many ways, that can be really great, for some people, it doesn’t work so great when they have a small home, they have to work in their living room and that sort of thing. But I think that we’re going see a lot of shaking out of that. I know for myself, I was working from the office four days a week, and now I’ve been into the office twice in the last six months, and it’s working great for me, but totally get that for a lot of people, it’s not good, it’s not working well and…Sorry, I was just going say it’s going shake out, there’s going to be long-term changes, I think.
Bruce: One of the interesting things in this interesting real estate boom that we’re in right now that’s going on. A lot of people who were going to be going into entry level and buying some sort of a condo or were already living in a condo, realized with the work from home it’s kind of nice to have some more space, maybe a couple of floors and a few more room options. So that’s been a part of what this whole real estate success thing has been lately that and cheap money has been a part of it. Pent-up demand, people sick and tired of her surroundings, people who had a plan to do something two or three years down the road, just pulled the pin now and did it. So that’s been an interesting thing to watch too.
And the office worker thing, part of it is being led by government. Provincial office workers that work for the province are going to start to go back into the workplace. That’s had a huge impact on downtown, as I think everybody has probably heard, but all these office towers that are around here are largely empty, which means those people are not buying lunch, buying coffee, not buying shoes, they’re not doing all that sort of thing, going to the movies, hanging out for a beer after, that’s not happening. So getting people back into the office is a pretty crucial part of that, but on the other hand, a lot of them will probably never come back because they don’t have to. It’s just as effective, if not more effective working from home, and that’s what they prefer. So we need to find what’s going to happen with the extra after space that will be created by that. I’m not hearing any great horror stories about it right now. Another side of that is that the government continues to pay rent, so those landlords are going to be okay for a while until something else you change or the leaf comes up to renewal, but there’s some great leadership in the whole commercial space management world. You know the Jawl family has been outstanding at that kind of stuff. I’ve found great leadership in so many different ways throughout this whole circumstance, but that’s something that we’re all going to keep an eye on to see what happens, because the repurposing of that space is another opportunity that we have, it might be seen as a challenge. But there’s some really, really interesting opportunities that are going to come along out of that.
Paul: Your Chamber awards happened this year virtually, and I guess in partnership, was it with Chek, Chek television.
Bruce: We were putting it together, we did some stuff like this on Zoom, and then we had videos that were shot earlier by a production company, and we had some of the sponsors come in here to the office, socially distanced to hold the award and make the presentation, so we’re piecing that all together online to see what the show would look like, and I suddenly realized I used to do this for a living, I was a television producer. I used to put pieces together to create features and stories.
Paul: It’s so true.
Bruce: So we reached out to Chek and said, “hey, do you want a TV show?” And they went “yeah. Support the chamber, absolutely.” So they sold sponsorships for that, which for them and through us was a revenue opportunity for them and for us, instead of that being an event for 200 people in a ballroom, it had 50,000 views.
Paul: Wow, wow.
Bruce: On television and on Facebook Live.
Paul: That’s great.
Bruce: Since then there’s been engagement watching the recorded version of it, I don’t have those numbers, I should have got that. But yeah, so that was a huge boost for them, and I would like to say for us too.
Paul: Well, I loved it, I thought it was great, and I’ve been there in-person too which is also great, I look forward to that, hopefully again soon, maybe next year. But I thought it was fantastic. Were there any of the winners that really stood out to you, some up and comers or some familiar faces?
Bruce: The whole process brings out the best of business, right. And then there’s a panel of judges that work independent of us or anybody else to determine who the two finalists will be, and in fact, the judges don’t know who the winner is until the night of the awards. So they were all outstanding. I couldn’t center one out over the other, but a couple of them, one of them particularly represents one of the ways in the future. A company called Top Soil engage in promotion and activity around urban farming. So in the bigger picture, one of the things we learned from Covid is that our food supply is a great risk, we don’t have food sovereignty, we don’t have food security, we’re bringing all kinds of stuff in from California and Mexico and Peru and places like that, to meet the demand that we have for food on Vancouver Island. Well, what happens if we have an earthquake? We’re three days away from running out of food, so we need to do that. It means that we create jobs, first of all, it’s food that we have better control over, it’s always going to be fresher, the lower carbon footprint from the lack of transportation is better for the island and it’s better for the environment. So there’s a great opportunity to make use of spaces that would otherwise not be used for agriculture in an urban setting. And part of the conversation that hasn’t ramped up too much quite yet goes back to re-purposing office space, because there’s no reason that urban vertical farming can’t happen here. It already does, if you Google it, you’ll see operations already doing it, but it’s not unheard of, it’s happened in Eastern Canada in ‘08/’09 when buildings started to close down, and that an office building, if it’s empty can very well be a food grow-up. It could happen. It’s climate control, you got water, it’s got heat, you got Windows, and again, that hasn’t gone very far, but it’s something that we as a Chamber are going to be looking into a little bit further, and a company like top soil finds locations around the city, which started on rooftops with buildings to create gardens to supply local restaurants. So that sort of innovation was already in play, but that’s the kind of thing that we can capitalize on and move forward to take advantage of that opportunity to solve one of our own problems.
Paul: That’s very cool. I look forward to the day that I can get some fresh avocados from downtown Victoria.
Bruce: Well, it would be greenhouse grown at a building somewhere or in a greenhouse.
Paul: Absolutely. Well, and you know, I mean, Victoria with its technology base and stuff, makes a lot of sense, makes the losses to me. Wow, so many of the things we could talk about, and I don’t want to keep you forever, but what? And we talked a little bit about the crystal ball and some silver linings, which is always nice because frankly, with this podcast, it hasn’t always been rose petals this last year, but we always try to look for the positive and that sort of thing. And we talked a little bit about this, but how do you see our economy in terms of its diversification and that sort of thing coming out? You mentioned a little bit earlier that you think we’re going to come out a little stronger, and I’m curious why that is?
Bruce: Again, another conversation that’s been popping up more and more often is around the term micro-credentialing or up-skilling, if you will. The majority of people displaced from the economy, in other words, that have lost their job or untrained and unskilled, they’re kind of in the lower wage earner category because they don’t have skills. If we take those people and up-skill them, micro-credentialing means that you accelerate their capacity to learn over a shorter period of time, but you teach them more to enable them to enter into the workforce at a professional level and at a higher rate of pay. So even before Covid, there were job shortages everywhere, we had a workforce shortage, we have a very low rate of unemployment. Well, now we have a very high rate of unemployment, so we can train those people up to fill the jobs that exist in the economy now, and align them with new opportunities within the economy, that gives us a more stable and a more diverse and a more sustainable workforce, provides a better life for those people who will have capacity to earn more money and live a better life. And that is a great opportunity we have right now, that’s how you grow your economy. So in conversation with post-secondaries Camosun, UVIC, Royal Roads and with industry associations like the Vancouver Island Construction Association and Chambers of Commerce, find out where the need is, we can poll our members and say, “What do you need? What you’re hiring for, or who have you lost and who’s looking for work?” Finding an opportunity to reinvent and redefine the economy and what it looks like and give people a better opportunity to succeed is something we can do right now, and I think coming out the other side, that’s going to be a really good advantage.
Paul: Always troubling and looking at the macro economic situation, because we know how hard it is for people who are in their late 40s, 50s, even early 60s, losing their job and trying to get back into the workforce, and that can be brutal and of course can really affect their retirement plan, if they’re in their prime earning years. So that’s brutal. And then there’s the flipside, which is those young people that are coming out of college for the first time and just entering the workforce, and now they’re competing against everyone, and we know that how well you do in the first couple of years coming out of college, will probably set the path for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years right. We’re at a dangerous precipice, I guess, do you have conversations with other people in government and other chambers and that sort of thing to try to address these I know there’s no magic bullet here. Right. But how do you tackle that? On both issues, right?
Bruce: Well, you do it collaboratively, right. You keep in touch with everybody else. You identify who the stakeholders are and you make sure that everybody who has a stake in a possible part and the success of making this happen are engaged with each other. So we’re working much more closely with the other chambers in the region, for example, to make sure that everybody is aware of what everybody else is doing. We represent a pretty significant number of businesses and families, and collective advocacy and determination of policy to work with government is something that we’re trying to do a little bit more together right now as we should. The other chambers all have their value because they’re sort of uber local in the region where they operate right there in Sooke, Esquimalt, Saanich Peninsula Westshore. We are the Greater Victoria Chamber. We have members in all of those jurisdictions, but they, again, an Uber local way, work in their own community, so that’s a great value, so we have a collective voice, all of those chambers together, when we speak to government, they understand A: That we are all working together and be that we represent a pretty significant business element that government needs to address. So yeah, and talking with government in the election process that we just went through, we of course had some candidate panels where we raised those issues even before that, we were dealing with a advocacy rather for things like extending temporary layoff status, keeping the wage subsidy in place for an extended period of time. We all worked together to deal with government about that to provide some assurances and stability as we redefine who it is we’re going to be going forward. We had conversations with the province, saying “when are you going to bring the workers back into the offices downtown, because the rest of the province is at phase three of recovery, you’re not. So others are following your lead.” People are just looking at what their footprint is going to look like going forward, so we need to have a little bit more clear idea of where consumers are going be and what their working circumstance is going to be so those are kinds of conversations we have.
Paul: Well, I appreciate how much of a challenge this whole situation is, you’re balancing so many different things, so I’m glad it’s you there, Bruce, I think you’re going do a great job, and I know you’re a bright guy and I have mad amount of respect for you over the years and yeah, I certainly hope you can help us navigate through as one of the leaders in our community, because it’s definitely going be tough. Where do you see the Chamber (I’ve been a member of the Chamber in some capacity for 20 years).
Bruce: Thank you for that.
Paul: It’s been great. You know what I mean? It hasn’t always been perfect, but man, it’s been a backbone of every business venture that I’ve been involved in.
Bruce: We are as good as we can be, when you take a look at the things, they’re social or business, their political things, but they all kind of come together. We’re helping our members understand what this government support and relief is about to make sure that everyone has best access and best use of it. Public safety has unfortunately become an issue as well, and we’ve been sort of putting the message out there to everybody that, yes, there are some terrible things happening to some souls that are caught living in hotels or on the street trying to manage addictions, and there’s a crime that surrounds that, but the bottom line on all of that is that this is a mental health issue, and if we can finally come to terms with some means of getting these people into treatment so that they can get what they need to balance their mental health and help them to overcome addictions, think of all the problems that would go away. So that’s a huge piece of advocacy that we’re talking about right now.
Paul: That’s great.
Bruce: Child care, a big deal for people that are going back to work and even people that are working from home, you still need child care because you can’t have the kids running around all the time, so you have to get that in place.
Paul: Not behind you in the Zoom call.
Bruce: That’s right, which is funny, but still you got to get some work done. So education and skills, as I mentioned, the other thing that’s kind of been on hiatus, unfortunately is immigration and integration rather of those workers into the economy, so because travel has been suspended, that hasn’t been possible. Immigration has been a huge source of talented and skilled workforce into this region, pretty close to 90% of immigrants to this country have post-secondary, and they come in and they fill jobs that are very important to us because we cannot in the past keep up with the growth of our economy, so that’s why immigration matters that’s been slowed down, we need to take a look at that, we need to make sure that we have enough training in place through education for the jobs, especially for healthcare. We have to keep an eye on what affordable housing is going to look like going forward, because again, the average house price in the region is over a million dollars for a single-family house, so somebody looking to get a start in life and get their family settled in, we have to find ways to make that possible for people that are low to middle wage earners so that’s a big deal. Transportation is still going to be a big factor. We need to streamline that a whole lot more to make it easier to get around or less necessary to get around. So the province had a South Island Transportation Study released just before the election, which will eventually be framing out what’s it going to look like. It’s not this, that or the other thing. It’s all of them. It’s transit, it’s rail, it’s ferries. See if there’s some way to integrate that all together, some more feasible than others. An idea that we think is a really good one is the creation of a Westshore ferry, a passenger ferry to bring people in from Colwood, from Royal Bay that drops them with the base, brings the rest into downtown and then work at creating assets at the other end in the Westshore where people that are living in the core or downtown, will go out there for that reason to use that ferry instead of driving a car.
Paul: And correct me if I’m wrong. They did something like that years ago with…
Bruce: The blue boat.
Paul: …that went to between Colwood and the Navy base, right?
Bruce: That’s right. Yeah, that was taken out of service. It wasn’t seen as core service by the Navy, so that decision was made at the time, and that just put more cars on the road, a lot of people come in and going at one time. Because between the Victoria shipyards and CFD Esquimalt, that’s something like 11,000 workers a day coming and going at the same time, and you know what, that number is going to get bigger because the shipyard is growing, they have more contracts upcoming. The base has lots of work going on right now, they have a 1 billion dollar Jetty Project in play right now, so all the workers doing that are coming and going. So yeah, we need to work on transportation, the corridor that goes up and down Blanchard Street and the Pat Bay highway, and McKenzie and Wilkinson, any little bottleneck in any neighborhood, we need to find ways to free people up so that they have more time, not traveling to either be at home or do something of a leisure nature, spend time with your kids, whatever it might be, so we don’t know what the real cure on that is, but the real corridors in play, BC Ferries is in play, certainly transit is. And other parts of the world have very, very sophisticated and effective means of moving people around with public transportation, we don’t, we simply do not. We’re still too reliant on a car and yeah, we’re kind of a car culture, but I think as younger people come up more and more than don’t see owning a car as a goal, they don’t see it as an aspiration, and they don’t see it good for the planet, they would rather find some sort of high speed transit option or multi-modal transit to move them around, and one means of payment for all that has to happen too, instead of trying to fish out $2.50 to get on the bus and then you tap for this and you do this for that, but it’s just one integrated payment method would be great. That was a part of what SIP talked about in something called the smart city’s proposal a couple of years ago through Infrastructure Canada, but all these things as… These are all opportunities where we can take advantage of this chance to make a pivot and do things in a better way to make this a better place to live.
Paul: Well, and the Mackenzie loop sure made a big difference. And it was good to see that they built bus lanes for that and right down on Douglas Street and everything, so…
Bruce: The whole Douglas corridor plan. And you know that whole McKenzie overpass some day that will be completed. I’m not sure when. I live near there, and it’s made a huge difference, but it’s still an interesting kind of maneuver with all the lines and what’s going on.
Paul: It is a little bit better every time I go.
Bruce: Yeah, and I have to think that if that decision was not made 10 years ago, but made today that would look different. I think it really would be different. The amount of dough that was put into that, could very well have been used for other…anyway that’s hindsight.
Paul: Water under the loop.
Bruce: There you go.
Paul: Bad joke for the day. So five years from now, what does the Chamber look like? Are you still going to be there?
Bruce: I don’t know. If I pass the audition every year, I guess I’ll be here. I would anticipate being here. Yeah, I think that’s about the maximum length of time, these kind of things have a life expectancy.
Bruce: I think new blood and fresh ideas and certainly someone younger would be a good thing and that’s just because of the perspective that’s brought. We have a platform within the Chamber called the Prodigy group. There a number of young leaders in the business community here. They’re not the leaders of tomorrow, they are the leaders of today, because they are a part of the economy, and they’re involved in that, and they are managers and business owners. So people like that are going to step up to have more and more to do with the Chamber of Commerce. Chambers for a long time, I had a bit of a reputation of being an old boys network, because that’s kind of what it was. Not anymore, we’re much more important, much more vital and much more engaged in that those who built this organization did an amazing job in creating what it is in the network that’s in place, but Chambers themselves, including this one, have never been more important in your entire history then they are right now, with what it is we’re managing and dealing with, so the more we do to engage with younger people to get their perspective and input is all a part of building a better future, because that future is theirs and for that reason I think the organization five years from now will be even more vital and more important than it is now.
Paul: I have to tell you a funny story. I met Rahim through the Prodigy group years ago, Rahim the Chamber member of the year 2020. And we were the young guys back then, but I guess we’re not the young guys anymore.
Bruce: The younger…
Paul: I don’t even think I qualify for that one anymore, but what we can dream. It’s great to see a guy like that and the amazing success that he’s had in business, and I have to think the Chamber was a big part of that, right. It’s so important, I’m glad to hear that the Prodigy group is still…I haven’t been to one of their mixers in the last several years, I have to admit, but I’m glad to hear that they’re still a going concern. That’s great.
Bruce: Yeah, the spirit of the organization and people that are of a certain age, the baby boomers, 60, they say 60 is the new 40. But along with that comes the fact that 8 o’clock is the new midnight. Right so those things all in unison in define what everybody’s living in the life like right now. But people in my generation are acting younger than our predecessors did when they were in our age. Well, we take better care of ourselves too, there’s that, but the advent of technology, the ability for us to take advantage of that to streamline things and be more effective makes a huge difference, and the Chamber will continue to make a difference in utilizing that as best as we can.
Paul: Awesome, well, thank you so much for joining me today, Bruce, this has been fantastic. Is there anything else that you want to add before we wrap up? Something I forgot to ask.
Bruce: No. I would just say that if you are a chamber member, thank you very much, we appreciate that. We were stronger because of you. If you’re not a chamber member, call me, email me, let’s talk about it. We’re here to help you. And I, we get everybody’s input.
Paul: I concur with that. As I said earlier, the Chamber of Commerce has been a big part of my career in various businesses, and such a great organization, you get out even more than what you put in, and it’s so important for a community, especially right now, so thank you so much, Bruce, and I wish you all the very best happiness and health, and let’s hope that vaccine is around the corner and we can in the meantime, wishing you strength and smarts while you help us navigate as a leader in our community, so thank you again.
Bruce: So everybody, just keep your eye out for opportunity, there’s great opportunities everywhere with technology, the indigenous economy is emerging and it’s going to be spectacular, and we have so much we can learn from them culturally, and so much good coming down the pipe here.