Creative Economy, Cruise Ships and Missed Opportunities

Creative Economy: The revolution has begun and we may have already lost. Or have we? From painters, sculptors, musicians, photographers – artists of all kinds – bakers, chefs, web designers, software developers, authors, engineers to business consultants (yours truly) the Alberni Valley does have a share of the emerging Creative Class. Professor, author, and current economic “guru de temps”, Richard Florida is achieving notoriety and legions of followers for very a good reason. Florida states and his “research argues that future economic growth will be driven by human creativity and innovation. The basic logic of our economic prosperity dictates that further economic development will be driven by the further development of human creative capability. I see the greatest challenge of the creative age is to find a way to tap and harness everyone’s creative potential.“
It should be obvious to everyone by now that the economic bases – resources extraction and manufacturing – for the past century in North America are no longer sustainable; at least under the traditional models which are now crumbling in the most significant economic structural shift since the Great Depression, according to the “Oracle of Omaha”, Warren Buffet. Clearly, communities such as Port Alberni continue to be seriously affected by this economic shift. The impacts and speed at which things are changing is unprecedented, but not entirely unpredictable. I recently had a conversation with a former mayor of another resource based community in which a major employer produced newsprint as its primary product. The former mayor recalls having conversations with this firm nearly 10 years ago to investigate what plans it had to transition away from newsprint to other wood fibre products such as biomass fuel. The company reacted as if he had insulted his mother! How dare he ask about the future of newsprint? Newspapers have been around for 150+ years in North America and there will always be a newspaper market….right? RIGHT? Well, it turns out this former mayor wasn’t being insulting but showed genuine concern and vision of the future that is now the present. With the advent and wide spread of new media technologies, the traditional format newspaper is nearly obsolete if not irrelevant to how people seek and demand information. If you understand how this example is relevant to Port Alberni and what its potential negative and positive implications mean for this community’s future then the revolution may not be lost here.
But, in order for the revolution to be fought, much less won, we need good foot soldiers and leadership that understands the challenges and opportunities of how we, as a community, can leverage our territorial assets to support our current group of entrepreneurs, professionals, artisans and anyone else who depend on the muscle between their ears for their livelihood as much as others in this community who – proudly so – relied on the resources in the hills, in the water and underground over the past decades. This is not at all to dismiss resource extraction and production as future economic opportunities. However, in order to survive and thrive in the future economy how we look at our natural resources and marketable opportunities requires a drastic shift in investment and focus that can only be maximized through creative thought and risk taking.
Cruise Ships: Who says past investments in a strategic, concentrated effort don’t yield any fruit?! Any orchardist will tell you it takes years of care and energy for any tree to grow marketable apples and respected wine makers will tell you it takes at least 7 years for vines to produce award winning wine producing grapes. Each particular industry has its own specific business cycle. In the case of the cruise industry most decisions about what port of call may be visited when – especially in the case of new ports – can take 3-5 years to actualize. In 2004 community stakeholders including Community Futures, City of Port Alberni, Chamber of Commerce, First Nations and Port Alberni Port Authority leveraged the interest received by The World of ResidenSea in Port Alberni as well as work being done by Cruise BC and the Provincial Government to begin positioning for Port Alberni to be considered as a viable port of call for the cruise industry that was starting to grow tired of its traditional ports of call.
Investments towards realizing this economic diversification opportunity for our community among these stakeholders included membership in Cruise BC, attendance at the international annual Sea Trade cruise conferences, expert analysis of community cruise capacity, development of sample marketable shore excursions and visits to Holland America Lines’ head office in Seattle and other efforts. I was fortunate to have represented Port Alberni along with since retired Port Authority CEO, Dennis White, at these meetings with HAL in 2005. I distinctly remember (and still have the notes) feedback received was very positive and the company officials were intrigued with the competitive advantage HAL could create for itself in the marketplace by adding new and unique cruise experiences for its passengers. Such experiences include sailing Vancouver Island’s “outside passage” and sailing through the Alberni Inlet “fjord”. Although the feedback was very enthusiastic it was tempered by the reminder that Port Alberni may not see an actual HAL vessel for 3-5 years. Well, HAL has made good on its promise and our investment appears to be showing a return with HAL’s scheduled visit to Port Alberni this May 9th.
Efforts are in full gear to put Port Alberni’s best foot forward to create a memorable experience for all of HAL’s passengers as well as the community at large during the time they are in port. As anyone familiar with this community all we need is any little excuse to throw a party and welcome guests to our home. Stay tuned for more information about what is being planned.
Although past efforts appear to have achieved the first step in realizing cruise ships as a potential economic opportunity a great deal more of energy and commitment will be required. For the good of the local small business community that Community Futures strives to directly and indirectly (by supporting community-wide initiatives and events, such as the cruise industry) serves I hope the stakeholders who are directly responsible share the same entrepreneurial spirit and enthusiasm evident by the resilient and creative small business owners and operators that are the backbone of the Alberni Valley’s economic and social well-being.
Missed Opportunities: In my previous article (“Secret to Success”, March 12, 2009) I invited local residents and businesses to send me examples of great customer service experiences. To my chagrin, folks in the Alberni Valley are tremendously Canadian in their humility. But, people, people, people, we need to start telling our own good news stories! Disappointingly, I did not receive a single response to my invitation for loyal customers and businesses alike to give me a shameless plug that I could publicize. Yet, when I provided previous tips and examples of “how not to” my email is typically bombarded with examples of how folks had the same negative experiences. I know the examples of positive experiences and offers are out there in the Alberni Valley. If we don’t tell our story who will? Regardless of the lack of response I will maintain my positive attitude and thank everyone for their non-response as I now have feedback that I should probably write an article about the value of public relations and non-paid advertising.