A new facility spanning four buildings, and focused on training workers in technology and the trades is serving as the centrepiece of a new economic plan unveiled by the provincial government Thursday.
Victoria is promising $137 million for the Trades and Technology Complex at the B.C. Institute of Technology (BCIT) in a bid to help train 12,000 full- and part-time students each year. BCIT estimates the total cost of the facility to be $220 million.
The StrongerBC Economic Plan, released just ahead of next week’s budget, is also promising more support of Indigenous training, the creation of 2,000 more tech seats at post-secondary institutions and an ESG Centre of Excellence to promote environmental, social and governance principles.
“We need to focus all the while on inclusive growth and clean economic recovery,” Premier John Horgan said during Thursday’s briefing.
The plan was developed in part by Mariana Mazzucato, a professor in economics of innovation and public value at University College London.
When the economist was tapped by the government last year, she said she’d be looking to eschew a top-down approach.
“But it does mean a process about co-creation and co-shaping of markets, co-shaping of the economy to the actual goals that we're interested in vs. just kind of filling the gap of something that's not there,” Mazzucato said in June 2021, adding she wanted to help develop a plan focused on identifying problems within the economy and creating ways to address issues rather than working with a static list of key sectors.
The province said it would be tracking the plan’s success based on traditional measurements such as job numbers and GDP, while also examining measures such as affordable housing and poverty reduction.
“Most jurisdictions around the world are moving beyond just GDP and jobs as a metric,” Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Minister Ravi Kahlon said during Thursday’s briefing.
“We want to create the metrics that show the real growth opportunity but can also track the changes that affect people in their day-to-day lives.”
Earlier this month the government released a labour market outlook projecting more than one million job openings in the province over the next decade, with about 80 per cent of those jobs requiring some sort of post-secondary training.
Of those 1,004,000 job openings, 635,000 will be replacement positions as more British Columbians retire. The remaining 369,000 new openings are by way of expansion.
The tech sector will account for 140,700 of those one million job openings, the highest number in any sector after health care (142,900).
Anne Kang, minister of advanced education and skills training, said at the time the outlook was release that the government was aware of a gap in the skilled workforce.
Kang said the province was looking into strategies for bringing some back into the workforce, such as providing more childcare services and reaching out to those who may have retired early in the pandemic.
The new economic plan said it would deliver “expanded” child care. New details were scarce as it relates to the plan, but last year the provincial and federal governments cut a $5.7-billion deal for $10/day child care over five years.
Kahlon added during Thursday’s briefing that “affordable childcare is our competitive advantage.”
The plan also points to the InBC Investment Corp. as increasing the province’s competitive advantage.
InBC, which is managing $500 million in public funds for strategic investments, faced harsh criticisms from Information Commissioner Michael McEvoy back in May 2021 for not being subject to the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).
Instead, the Crown corporation faces annual reporting in addition to independent audits.
Kahlon told BIV in December he feels confident InBC offers enough public transparency to avoid a “chilling effect” with regards to investors while keeping taxpayers informed.
The economic plan also makes mention of the creation of 114,000 new “affordable homes” for $7 billion. Last year’s provincial budget committed to 9,000 new “homes for middle-income families” with $2 billion in development financing.
Business Community Reacts
Bridgitte Anderson, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, criticized the plan for its lack of some key details.
“While the plan usefully articulates what the government will measure, there is less detail on what actions in the plan will lead to more growth, a higher standard of living and additional investment into our province,” she said in a statement.
“The pandemic has been challenging, especially for small- and medium-sized firms struggling with lower sales, increased debt and higher costs. We believe a long-term economic strategy also needs to focus on tax reform, regulatory policies and the overall cost of doing business.”
Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, said her organization supported the plan’s commitments to skills training, childcare, housing and transportation investments.
“Next week’s budget concurrent with this economic plan needs to focus on a review of BC’s tax system, which is long overdue,” she said in a statement.
The Burnaby Board of Trade, located in the same city as the new BCIT facility, issued a statement praising the plan’s focus on skills training to address labour shortages.
“This plan provides an attractive vision of what British Columbia can become, but it does not contain the material actions required or send a strong enough signal to either the domestic or international business community that the government can provide the certainty necessary for new investments, including ESG capital to flow into or grow within the province, in order to ultimately help pay for that vision,” Greg D’Avignon, CEO of the Business Council of B.C., said in a statement.
“B.C. does not have the welcoming conditions required to attract the private sector investment dollars necessary to realize the full potential of the province’s advantages in natural resources, innovation, or people. As a more competitive world emerges from COVID-19, other jurisdictions are more attractive to investors and offer greater certainty.”
Meanwhile, a January report from the B.C. Technology Association came out pushing for a rethink of economic priorities.
Rather than relying on the province’s traditional revenue-generators such as frothy real estate markets or cyclical industries within natural resources, the industry association argued policymakers should focus more on the province’s knowledge-based service sector.
“What we don't want is to be pinning our hopes on things that are inherently volatile or bring with them [negatives] like relying on the overheated housing market to provide a significant amount of tax revenues in the form of property tax transfers and property taxes,” B.C. Tech CEO Jill Tipping told BIV last month.
“Those are less solid foundations to build our fiscal future than the other options that are available to us.”
Instead, the report recommends the province prioritize three initiatives:
- Investing in sectors with high-growth potential
- Focusing on education and skills development to drive growth in a knowledge-based econom
- Collecting better data on digital and “intangible” economic growth