Friday, May 1, 2015

Belonging on Bowen

I've been really enjoying the work we have been doing on the Bowen Island Economic Development Committee.  I'm sitting on the Business Retention and Expansion working group and we are about to embark on a project to host a few dialogue circles with local businesses.  We want to test out a few assumptions about the way the local economy functions before embarking on strategies to retain and expand it. 

In most municipalities, BRE committees publish data and try to attract investment and industry to their communities.  On Bowen, my hunch is that we need a really different approach to this work for a number of reasons.  First of all, we are an island, and we are not on the way to anywhere.  It is very hard to attract business to a place that automatically costs them extra for being here.  We suspect that most business people who live on Bowen are in business here because they want to live here.  That is in contrast with many other places, where people are in business because the market conditions are good.  Evidence of this is simple to see: of the 500 or so businesses on Bowen you would be hard pressed to find a single one that is owned by an absentee owner.  It could well be true that every single business on Bowen is owned by a Bowen Islander.  That is a remarkable statistic.

The nature of community here supports businesses.  And it's also an inhibitor.  You have to want to live on Bowen to work on Bowen.  But when you become a part of the community it makes it easier to do business, or work jobs.  Belonging becomes not only the reason you live here but the way you can stay.  

For visitors, belonging is a key aspect to their experience as well.  Our current community branding initiative is interesting in that our visitor's survey has shown that people feel a sense of connection and restoration when they come to Bowen.  And when my little company hosts groups here, we ensure that the entire village is involved, taking our people out to Rustique for dinner, having The Snug cater, getting provisions from the Bowen Wine and Beer Store and spending a night out in the community living room up at The Pub.  I love watching people from our groups experience Bowen, meet local people and make connections while they are here.  They can feel the belonging that we know.

Belonging is a key indicator of the quality of our relationship to this place.  For me this really informs our BRE work, because we are looking at the role that belonging to Bowen plays in the attractions nd retention of business here, despite thin profit margins and staffing issues.  If it wasn’t for that sense of “belonging on Bowen” I think a lot of businesses might have relocated elsewhere.

Vancouver Coastal Health did a survey in 2013 looking at community wellness on the North Shore and Bowen island, and not surprisingly we came out at 82%, the highest by far of all the areas surveyed. This is an important feature of community life here and is a big reason why we are a unique community within Metro Vancouver.  It is also a big reason why strategies tailored to business retention and development on Bowen need to uniquely fit our context.