The new president and CEO of the Business Council of BC, Greg D’Avignon, was in Kitimat last week as part of his quest “to understand different parts of the province and economy.”
But he also brought a message to those he met: “The sun is rising for BC, not setting.”
While here D’Avignon met with Rio Tinto Alcan, the Haisla, the Chamber of Commerce, economic development groups and members of city council.
And was clearly impressed with what he’d seen and heard.
D’Avignon told the Sentinel the Business Council is working on what it sees as the priorities for the province from an economic and a policy standpoint.
And that was framed around the fact that Asia within the next seven years is going to account for half the world’s production,
Pointing out BC was growing at about 2.6-2.8 per cent annually while most Asian economies were growing 7-12 per cent per year, D’Avignon said if BC doesn’t seize the opportunity that represents, it’s going to be marginalized.
“There are lots of places in the world to invest, there are lots of places that have infrastructure and there are lots of places that have natural resources,” he said, adding BC therefore had to become smarter.
Turning to the Northwest and Kitimat in particular, he said Kitimat offered a great deep water port and “a work ethic that is second to none in the province.”
The question was, “How do we work together a little more effectively?”
Pointing to the Haisla, D’Avignon said not only did they have the KLNG project, they were also “open for business on a variety of things with the right fit and the right partnership.”
Given “we‘re going to have to ship energy somewhere”, he said the KLNG project offered a “huge opportunity” in building a cluster of activity around that industry through the kind of services and support industries LNG would need.
Also on that “cluster” theme, D’Avignon pointed out there was huge growth going on right now in data storage technology where firms stored information not on their own server but using a server farm.
“Thirty-five per cent of the cost of those industries is around cooling those servers.”
Pointing to the snowbanks outside, he added, “Why wouldn’t you create an industry around attracting server farms here that would have close proximity to energy and to a cooler climate, and then start to build out a service base to service that?”
Communities like Kitimat had opportunities like that if they were “really purposeful” about going out and getting it.
Asked if technology workers would want to move away from the big city, D’Avignon had a quick response: “If you look at Silicon Valley, it was out in the middle of nowhere when it first started.”
As an example of what could be achieved with the right approach, he noted the forest industry had been through some tough times because of its dependency on the US market.
However, a decade-long campaign targeting China – a campaign he described as “persistent and methodical” – had translated into a dramatic increase in lumber shipments to that country and the re-opening of some mills in BC to feed that demand.
D’Aignon admitted to some frustrations, such as the way British Columbians seemed to spend their time arguing about whether something should happen or not rather than figuring out how to do it.
However, he remained buoyant about BC’s opportunities.
“The world is our oyster. We need to choose to move on or do what we’ve done, regrettably, in the last 50 to 60 years…maintain the status quo.”
A comment that echoed one he had made earlier about Kitimat’s situation.
Noting the RTA smelter modernisation and the Apache-EOG liquefied natural gas plants represented billions of dollars in investment, he added, “But that’s a launching pad, not an end point.”
The question then was how do you build on those developments to create a long term community strategy bringing in more industries.