Finding renewal for island economies

April 2008

The University of Victoria is helping to breathe new life into Port Alberni by launching an $11-million grant proposal to create, and lead, a BC-based centre that will support the research and development, innovation and commercialization of technology in Canada.

The "Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence" will create five such centres across the country. The BC government is supporting UVic’s proposal with $250,000 of provincial funding.

"There are many rural communities, like Port Alberni, where the one industry in town has shut down or been reduced considerably and people are being laid off," says UVic business professor Dr. Brock Smith, the lead proponent of the grant proposal. "We see a huge need in these communities to help build industry, so our proposal argues that one of the centres of excellence should be focused on smaller business and on startups."

There are three themes to the proposal: First, it would connect entrepreneurs with teams of professionals who can provide hands-on assistance that traditional economic development agencies aren’t able to offer. Second, the centre would link the entrepreneurs with UVic students and faculty to help develop technologies. Third, the university would conduct research focused on the development of entrepreneurial expertise, international commercialization, sustainable technology and innovation, and First Nations entrepreneurship.

"The centre would give us an opportunity to specifically address productivity and innovation issues in the valley," says the City of Port Alberni’s Economic Development Officer Patrick Deakin. "For example, a local fish processing plant that employs more than 200 people is at risk of being shut down because of environmental issues. This is one of the problems that we could take to the centre for help."

In November 2007 UVic researchers, including Smith, played key roles at a community forum aimed at diversifying Port Alberni’s struggling economy.

"The forum was inspirational, so much in fact that every time we come against a new challenge we can’t solve ourselves, the first place we turn to is UVic," says Deakin.

UVic’s Office of Community-Based Research and the city are working together on a memorandum of understanding outlining potential research partnerships in a full range of economic, social and cultural areas of change in Port Alberni.