RMOW ready to rev Whistler's economic engine 

Key stakeholders commit to sharing, brainstorming, executing economic development plan

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Whistler is getting an economic game plan.

Leaders across the resort will be meeting over the coming months, at the request of municipal administrator Mike Furey, to reign in resources, study the resort's economic viability, examine risks, analyze trends, develop strategies, all with an eye to driving Whistler's economic engine forward.

It's called the Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI).

"I think it's a brilliant approach to coordinating all the major players in the resort," said Councillor Roger McCarthy, in response to Furey's presentation Tuesday night.

"I think it's fabulous."

Among the issues the EPI will examine are: the impact of the global financial crisis, changing visitor travel and demographic patterns, exchange rate fluctuations, resort competition, revenue uncertainty, new emerging markets like China, increased global awareness of Whistler in the wake of the 2010 Olympics and social media and other marketing shifts.

Rather than create a new committee that could potentially double up efforts, Furey has created the EPI out of the relatively new Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) Oversight Committee, once just charged with overseeing the spending of the $6.35 million in annual provincial grant monies — and now tasked with so much more.

The representation on the committee remains the same and with it comes a wealth of knowledge and experience and an in-depth perspective of the complex issues that drive the resort's economy

The EPI members are: Furey and Jan Jansen, general manager of resort experience from the municipality, Councillor Jason Faulkner, Dave Brownlie, CEO of Whistler Blackcomb, Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, Jim Douglas, general manager of the Pan Pacific and representative of the Hotel Association, a representative from the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and Michelle Leroux Member at Large from the community.

The stakeholders haven't always been overly eager to share information in the past with other resort stakeholders.

When asked after the meeting about the players putting their cards on the table, Furey said they're trying to find the balance of allowing the individual organizations to retain that competitive edge "but at the same time contribute to the overall betterment of the resort and the betterment of the resort economy.

"The gains from being more open and more collaborative and working as a whole far outweigh any smaller opportunities in terms of hoarding information."

Plus, added Furey, much of the information is already in the public domain.

Perhaps the carrot keeping the stakeholders at the table is the chance to direct where the more than $6 million in RMI gets divvied out in the resort.

Echoing a comment from McCarthy, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said: "When you've got money on the table, you get people's attention."

Developing an economic development strategy was a key deliverable outlined in the Council Action Plan. Not only did council hear concerns in the community about Whistler's economic future in the run up to November's election, but there was also concerns about the use of the RMI funds and how those needed to be used in a strategic fashion as well as collaboratively.

"I see this very much as a working group and achieving real and tangible goals," said Wilhelm-Morden.

Furey is adamant that this will not be a report that is prepared and then put on a shelf at municipal hall to gather dust.

Rather, he said: "It's going to be a living document that provides guidance going forward and then we're going to monitor and report on results of our actions."

And the work continues after a fashion — more analyzing, researching risks and trends, more strategic direction, more ways of going forward.

Furey was reticent to put a timeline on delivering a report to council but he said the work was set to get underway in the fall.

Councillor Andé Janyk said: "I think it sends a clear message out (to the community)."


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