Byline: Don Cayo
The Vancouver Sun
If all you knew about Vancouver's business climate came from my columns, which tend to focus on things like tax inequities or land-use conflicts, you might think the city is a terrible place.
But if your source was City Hall promotional material -- things like a Pollyannaish posting, "Myth and Fact", that appeared on the Web in April shortly after I wrote about the dearth of affordable workspace in the city -- you might think everything's perfectly fine.
Not surprisingly, a whole picture of business life in the city contains elements of both the problems and perversities that thumb-suckers like me usually dwell on, as well as many positive attributes that boosters are so keen to underline.
So I was doubly interested in Tuesday's announcement of a Blue Ribbon panel set up to assess how Vancouver ranks as a business city, what it lacks, and what it must do to improve.
For one thing, the panel -- with the blessing of city council, which appointed its 12 members -- will address most, if not all, of the taxation and policy issues I so often write about.
For another, the announcement of its launch was accompanied by a nicely nuanced analysis of where the city is now compared with competitors near and far.
In brief, the report card works out to tepid "C" average in the 15 categories compared. But it isn't middling in everything -- it has a couple of superb strengths that earned "A"s, and some deplorable weaknesses that led to five "D"s.
The three ratings related to the attractiveness of Vancouver's location illustrate the range. An "A" for quality of living, which is said to be the best in North America and the third-best in the world, is dragged down by "D"s for housing affordability (the worst in Canada) and crime rate (the highest among both major Canadian cities and some select ones from the U.S.).
For its fiscal/regulatory climate, Vancouver eked out a "C" for tax rates, which -- astonishingly to me, with my jaded view of the city's tax policies -- were only second-worst among regional and national competitors. And it got "D"s for both the ease and the cost of starting a new business.
The city got a "C" for total cost of doing business, the sting of being the highest-priced among major competitors softened only slightly by the fact that at least it's competitive in some sectors.
Vancouver did best in the six areas under the broad category of "development capacity". It got an "A" for entrepreneurial capacity; "B"s for its skilled workforce and innovativeness; and "C"s for real estate infrastructure, as well as -- believe it or not -- both the infrastructure and the sustainability of its transportation network.
In the category of "development opportunity", however, it got a dismal "D" for having the greatest decline in head offices, and a "C" for the comparatively shaky success rate of its new small firms.
Add to these things a tepid rate of growth in jobs in the city and a high poverty rate -- plus some B.C.-wide problems such as slow GDP growth and relatively low export levels -- and you can see where the panel should be headed.
Panel chair Sarah Morgan-Silvester, who also chairs the Vancouver Port Authority, said the issues that need to be faced involve all levels of government, but the panel's priorities will be close to home.
"We have to start somewhere," she said. "So we'll focus on the things city council can control."
The volunteer panel members, working with a $212,000 budget for consultants "who do the heavy lifting," is to have its report -- with specific recommendations for action -- in council's hand this fall.