Blue prints laid out on a table, with architects tools all around them

A Blueprint for Cortes Island’s future: Why the Conversation Cafes are important

The Cortes Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA) is hosting an in-person community discussion with Cortes Island’s small businesses in the Pioneer Room at Mansons Hall on Thursday Sept 14, 2023. 

This is the first in a series of 6 ‘Conversation Cafes’ meant to update Cortes Island’s Local Economic Action Plan (LEAP) in an inexpensive way. 

 “Our Local Economic Action Plan is five years out of date,” said Kate Maddigan, CCEDA’s Economic Development Officer.  

Image credit: What the Leap report has already achieved – Photo by Rhondathough (Own Work) Synergy Suites Salon via Wikimedia (CC BY SA, 4.0 International License)

She explained how the LEAP report has already brought millions of dollars of funding into the Cortes Island economy and been behind many of the major community initiatives unfolding around us.

KM: “One of the prioritized action ideas of that 2018 report is advanced planning on the commercial property, the Village Commons. Well,  we’ve done that. Without the report, I’m not sure how well we would have been able to provide the evidence that the community wants this to funders.” 

“That’s why the report is important. The LEAP report is referenced by myself and  other organizations on the island as a way to set a certain course. It was quite a few thousand dollars to get that report, but the return on investment for that effort for that plan is that we now have funding almost a million dollars for the Village Commons. It’s provincial funding to create the commercial property that will provide retail office studio space for small businesses on the island that are desperately needed.”

“We’ve done consultations. People have said, and we know, that there isn’t enough vendor space for businesses on the island. We know that because the farmer’s market takes place in the summer in a gravel parking lot. It’s a little bit dusty. It’s great, but now we have more space and we’re working on that.”

“Another prioritized action idea of the 2018 report was to get this whole Economic Development Officer position off the ground. When we applied for the funding for this two year position to hire an economic development officer, we pointed to the LEAP Report, which suggested that this was an important thing to fund. The funders looked at that and ‘went, okay, this is something that the community wants.’ That’s been completed.” 

CC: Has the LEAP report been used for any of Cortes Island’s other projects? 

KM: “One was the Value Added Wood Products Roadmap. The LEAP Report did identify that as a priority and that was advanced recently. The Forest Co-op now has a business roadmap to help advance the value added work products on the island.” 

“Another prioritized action idea in the LEAP Report was to create the Community Housing Initiative to purchase the 50 acres of land that’s happening now.”

She is, of course, referring to Rainbow Ridge, which has already brought millions of dollars into the community in the forms of grants and donations. 

The 2017 Leap report identified housing issues as the principal issue holding Cortes Island back from reaching its potential. 

This is not the first report to reach that conclusion. On the Cortes Community Housing Society website it states, “The statistics in these surveys further support and ground our felt and known experience; that the lack of affordable housing is making it hard for so many sections of our valued population to find homes, creating poverty and homelessness, thus driving people off island in search of work and housing.” 

The purchase of what is now known as Rainbow Ridge  was announced on April 7, 2018.

“We also have pointed to the need for a high school on the island.”

This helped bring the Cortes Island Academy intio being, and that initiative is now going into its second year.

KM: “These other initiatives did attract money to our island to help advance their projects.”

CC: Are there any other initiatives mentioned in the Leap Report that have not yet come to fruition?? 

KM: “There’s others in the works that the LEAP Report has identified as a priority, including a complete business directory, a networking event for business and the advancement of a circular economy campaign for the island.

“There has been planning around active transportation. We’re hoping the SRD can advance the active transportation projects, which are also prioritized in the LEAP Report.”

CC:What do you hope to achieve at these Conversation Cafes?

KM: “This is our easy, inexpensive approach to updating the LEAP report, so that we can have new action items to assist the community.”

“What does the community want us to focus on? What should we Be doing, instead of CCEDA going, Oh, well, we think it should be this.”

“We’ve identified about six different topic areas and this first one’s on small business is just one.” 

CC: What’s your definition of a small business?

KM: “A small business definition in Canada and BC is 99 employees or less. That’s a pretty big business for Cortes. We’re all in that category of small businesses.”

“I’m getting a lot of positive feedback about the idea,  both from the ‘larger’ businesses on the island and from the smaller ones, such as Farmers market vendors.  I’m hoping that it will be a mix of both experienced business people who come to this discussion and people who are wishing to get into businesses on the island. I booked the Pioneer Room because I’m not expecting a huge crowd.  A big crowd for discussions like these on Cortes Island is maybe 45 people. I’m hoping that if we get that many, the Pioneer Room will be  big enough for that.  It’s going to be a discussion facilitated by Colin Funk, who is an experienced facilitator. I’m hoping that we can do some smaller breakout groups. It’s going to be a full two hours.”

CC: The next Conversation Cafe is tentatively scheduled for Oct 23 or 24. 

KM: ”It’s going to be about regenerative tourism.  We’ve got Destination Development BC providing experienced facilitators on tourism development to host this workshop. It’s going to be extended for the day or an afternoon, and they will be interviewing a few different  business providers on Cortes.” 

“I think that people will be interested to talk about things like,  transportation, ferries and housing.  How can tourism support that? Or how maybe we don’t want to develop the tourism industry on Cortes if it takes away from those things. I think it’ll be a really interesting discussion.”

“We really hope for a good turnout,  so people should really stay tuned for details on that.”

Top image credit: Feature A blueprint for the future  – Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash 

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