Creative economy initiative in Powell River shares results of developmental work

Establishment of programming and co-working space are on the agenda

Powell River’s Creative Economy Initiative is gaining traction, with expansion into a programming and co-working space above Powell River Public Library, plus an entrepreneurial programming offering, with both set to launch in the early fall.

At a meeting to report on the initiative’s activities last month, project lead Julie Jensen, who works at Vancouver Island University, outlined the progress the initiative has made over the last year, which has involved an extensive public engagement process.

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“We took a look at what the creative economy is and how it is affecting and operating in Powell River,” said Jensen. “We wouldn’t be able to get to where we are and roll out the kind of activities that are about to happen if it hadn’t been for everybody showing up, taking time to fill out surveys, submit to interviews and attend open houses.”

This is indicative that Powell River has been embracing the creative economy concept, she added.

City of Powell River and other people, as well as groups and organizations in town for a number of years, have been looking at ways to support the shift in the economy. The times of the mill being the primary economic driver have changed over time, said Jensen.

“One of the reasons we have ended up focusing on the creative economy, which is showing a wider international economic shift, is that it is an economic paradigm that all are being affected by, globally as well as locally,” she added. “Sometimes the creative economy is referred to as the knowledge economy, which is a focus on knowledge creation, creative processes and innovation across sectors.

“It doesn’t particularly or necessarily talk about creative industries or culture alone. Rather, it’s the views of creativity and ideation through all aspects of the economy. It changes how we have been looking at economies less vertically and spreading out more horizontally. It changes how things are organized, how businesses create, how people come together. We are being affected by this in Powell River.”

The creative economy initiative has roots in work that has been done by several organizations. The 2015 Powell River Economic Development Strategy talks about the need for innovation and entrepreneurial growth, said Jensen.

There is also the Powell River Groundswell report and the Powell River Arts and Culture Report from 2013, which both reflect a need to have any development activities rooted in the values, culture and history that make Powell River unique. For example, “arts and culture repeatedly stood out in those reports as core to the economy in Powell River and creating many spin-off economic activities across our community,” said Jensen. “All in all, there has been a lot of work done in the past leading up to the work done by the Powell River Creative Economy and Innovation Initiative.”

The process is collaborative between Vancouver Island University, City of Powell River, Powell River Educational Services Society, Tla’amin Nation and qathet Regional District. Funding has come from the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) and the Powell River Community Forest Reserve Fund, which have matched funding from each of the five partners to get actual sectoral development work accomplished.

The initiative looks at how to grow the entrepreneurial culture in Powell River, knowing that entrepreneurship fosters creativity and new business activity.

Conversations in 2017 emerged on how to address Powell River’s growing innovation needs. There were ideas and meetings with people coming together to develop an innovation hub in Townsite. Jensen said there were a number of questions that needed to be asked, such as: What is an innovation hub? What does it mean for Powell River? How much is something like that going to cost? Who is going to pay for it? Who will the users be? How is going to operate? Are we ready?

To answer those questions, Powell River Creative Economy and Innovation Initiative was formed to do the work of creating a sector development strategy. This was done with money from ICET and local partners.

The development strategy identifies growth opportunities within a particular sector, and the choice for Powell River was the cultural sector and the knowledge economy. A year later, a public creative economy sector development report has been produced and summarizes all of the work. It is available at

Strategic goals have been communicated back to the funders. One is to establish an entrepreneurial program. The second strategic goal is the development of an innovation hub and co-working space. This encourages increased connectivity and activity in the creative economy.

“Short term, we are looking at providing support services, program and training space and providing working spaces for independent workers and entrepreneurs, and having that space be a place of fermentation and cross-pollination of people’s services and skills,” said Jensen. “Long term, we are looking toward a larger, multipurpose space like the space currently available in the Townsite Market.”

Jensen said it has been learned that there is a need to start small, as well as understanding what users of the space need and want, and what the community is going to support, before going to the next level.

The last component is to engage, inform and educate about the creative economy.

“It is going to gradually transform Powell River’s economic paradigm, which is happening anyway, with or without our participation as Powell River, as all other smaller communities on the coast are affected by globalization,” said Jensen. “So, start small, build incrementally, bottom-up and ensure there is input and buy-in from users. It is important to focus on building relationships and partnerships.”

Jensen said it is the culture of the users that define the innovation hub co-working space, not the other way around. There are places elsewhere, such as in Nanaimo, where a large co-working space was created that ended up sitting empty until it was rebranded. It is important to determine the requirements of potential users before committing to grandiose projects, she added.

Work is beginning on building out the programming and co-working space, which will be located above the library. Leasehold improvements are going to be made to a space about 1,000 square feet in size; it will be big enough to house about 15 co-workers at a time and have a programming space.

Longer term, there is an eye to expansion, depending on how successful the program is in its current innovation hub location, and how successful the organization is in developing infrastructure proposals.

“We are looking at a lot more money to get something like that off the ground,” said Jensen.

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