Making economic shift happen in the Comox Valley

Two dates. November 22, 2014. Ian McKay, Vancouver’s economic development commissioner, talks to me about the city’s emerging “talent economy.”

May 31-June 3. Downtown Courtenay hosts the 6th annual Elevate Arts Festival. The absolute best time to experience the Comox Valley’s emerging talent economy.


In 2015 I interviewed Susan Mowbray, Senior Economist with MNP, at Vancouver Island Summit. Susan is the  author of VISummit’s annual “state of the Island” snapshot of economic trends. In 2015 Susan was telling me about the growing importance of the “knowledge sector” to the Island’s economy, including the Comox Valley.

I interviewed Susan again in 2016. The trends had shifted. Infrastructure spending was now the driver of whatever growth was going to happen in our region. Uncertainty about the softwood lumber agreement is going to have an impact on our economy, even though many of us don’t acknowledge forestry as a local economic fact of life. Interestingly, she made no comment about the knowledge sector.


When Ian McKay said, “talent economy,” I had an idea about what he was talking about. I’ve seen five decades of talent attracted to my community. Not for jobs. But because we’ve got something that talented people are attracted to.

I believe talent is our biggest resource. McKay’s words inspired me to follow WeAreYVR’s lead to create and promote #WeAreYQQ as the Comox Valley’s own talent tag and brand. It inspired me to launch a speaker series that’s become something much bigger. As at the beginning, we’re still focused on talent (the LIFT acronym stands for “Leading, Inspiring, and Fuelling Talent”).

Mowbray may be right. By measurable indicators, the “knowledge sector” may not be as significant in 2016-17 as it was in 2015. But our “talent economy” is more important than ever.

That’s because talent is what moves us to take our knowledge and create things. Solve problems. Safety gear for kids. Niche marketing services. Art. Books. Videos. Etcetera.

With regard to our “traditional” natural resources, it’s our talent with forests, fisheries, food that’s inspiring creatives and entrepreneurs to create new kinds of businesses and jobs. Fuelling that talent should be our primary concern when it comes to growing the economy.


I’ll argue that a talent economy is synonymous with a “startup community.” It’s a place where experimentation is encouraged. Shift happens. New experiences – music, art work, businesses – are created.

The research on successful startup communities says that they require a generation of commitment. Very few people make that kind of commitment. Politicians, bureaucrats, and agencies? Sorry. Their interests wax and wane with economic trends – ag tourism, tech, innovation, local booze.

On May 31 we gave Meaghan Cursons our #MakingShiftHappen Award, in part because she’s put over 20 years service into making shift happen with local talent. That includes six years plus as one of the prime movers with Elevate.

At LIFT, we support committed, long-term shift disturbers. Like Meaghan Cursons. She is one of the leaders in creating the vibrant talent economy we need to thrive. May she inspire many others. Because talent, more than chasing trends, is the solution.

by hanspetermeyer
founder, LIFT
@hanspetermeyer on Twitter and Instagram