How to tell the world Squamish’s open for business? 

Giant billboard one of the considerations

It would probably be an eagle, its beak full of salmon, Squamish's version of the Mexican flag. It would cast a shadow onto the highway, and all passers-by would look up in rapt curiosity to discover, hey, this town is open for business. And here we were thinking Chilliwack had the market cornered on markets.

Councillor Bryan Raiser called the idea tacky, and colleague Patricia Heintzman was inclined to agree. Councillor Paul Lalli, however, was smitten with the suggestion, and backing him up was Business Lead Dave Thomson, who said a customized open-for-business sign is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of marketing the town's employment lands to outside investors, especially with the 2010 Olympics looming in that rather ubiquitous way they always do.

"We have some really creative people in this town who could make that billboard unlike anything you've ever seen," he said during a meeting of the district's economic development committee.

Chilliwack has one, and it looks like corn. The upkeep is cheap, and the dividends are many, said Thomson.

But, wondered Raiser, is the town actually open for business?

"I don't think we are," he said.

Thomson countered that, saying there was a time when the local government couldn't offer much in the way of a business profile for the town. Those days are done, and there is much to offer a prospective caller, from land use strategies to demographic profiles and amenity inventories.

In the end, the initiative - which finds its roots from individuals in the community - was referred to the committee of the whole for further discussion.

However, the whole scene offers a bird's eye view of the committee's other works, which include an informal priority list, efforts to develop an advisory council and flirtations with a marketing company.

The latter stoked a lot of excitement. Mayor Greg Gardner met with PACE Group, a sort of summit organizer. With the convention centre at the West Coast Heritage Railway Park near complete, council is looking to organize a high profile economic development summit, one that could see a few hundred dollars charged per ticket.

PACE has staked its reputation on these sorts of gigs, drawing speakers such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton to huge events with thousands of people. Of course, enlisting them requires what the committee would like to think of as an investment, one to the tune of $65,000. Committee members said the figure is daunting and PACE has been asked to come back with a feasibility study at no cost to the district. Part of that study could include competitive elements pointed out by Thomson, who mentioned a slew of other similar meetings in the area around the proposed time of September. A possible theme could be eco-tourism.

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