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SSC a high priority for Economic Development Committee

Organization's role in district development to be reassessed

The Squamish Sustainability Corporation (SSC) could be restructured before spring as a newly minted economic development committee moves to revaluate the organization's place in the district's future.

"Should this development be a part of the District of Squamish?" asked Paul Lalli, committee chair and district councillor. "Right now, they don't deal with economic development. They're primarily dealing with Tourism Squamish and the operations of the Adventure Centre. So that's a priority, from a hierarchy point of view."

The SSC is an arms-length, wholly owned entity of the district. Under the direction of Brent Leigh, who left the district shortly before last year's elections, the organization tooled various economic development strategies, key among them a plan to court players in the knowledge-based industry. The SSC also has a business development lead in employee Dave Thomson.

And yet, according to members of council, SSC Chair Dave Crewson told both Lalli and Mayor Greg Gardner, who also sits on the committee, that the organization is not focused on those avenues.

"We're in dialogue with the chair and the board," said Lalli. "And my understanding is the board themselves are looking at the structure and whether or not it makes sense. So the first step is to get a recommendation from the board. We learn from board members as well. We learn from them in terms of whether or not the program is working."

A number of local politicians, Lalli and Gardner among them, have said there's a lack of clarity in terms of SSC functions. Further, the district's entire economic development apparatus needs to be more clearly understood, whether in terms of public bodies like Tourism Squamish or private organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Improvement Area. Top of that pile, however, is the SSC.

"I think it's fair to say there's some need for clarity on the roles of the organization," said Gardner. "I can tell you that I wasn't clear that SSC was pursuing economic development as a priority."

Whatever conclusions are reached by the committee will be packaged into one or more recommendations, which will then be forwarded to council for a decision. According to Lalli, movement on the fate and structure of the SCC will be underway by mid-February.

Both Lalli and Gardner stressed the importance of economic development in Squamish. Aside from the larger global picture, which is dire, the economy in Squamish has been fuelled in recent years by construction, which is inherently temporal, as well as temperamental.

Consider the news of Capilano University's downtown Squamish Campus. Originally, the plan was to have a facility in place before the Olympics. Late last week, however, news broke from the institution's administration that a campus good be a decade in the making.

"And that's a fact," said Lalli. "We are dealing with a credit crunch and bad economic times. We do have to be careful and wait patiently through these uncertain times."

At the same time, Lalli hopes to round out Squamish's recreation identity with an educational component. Indeed, with most any viable component.

a"From a general statement," he said, "Squamish is open for business. If anybody is looking at investing in our community, feel free to give me a call at 604-815-9841."