Former mayoral candidate Ron Woznow has provided City of Powell River council members with his thoughts on economic development prospects for the city.
Appearing as a delegation at the committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, August 13, Woznow thanked the committee for the opportunity to make some recommendations to improve the city’s performance on economic development.
He said his interest comes from talks with residents, mostly seniors, who are worried about rising taxes. He said they had read in the Peak about all of the great jobs that were going to be created and how this was going to reduce the tax burden, but none of that has happened.
Woznow said in preparing his recommendations, he undertook a study similar to ones he has done for governments and corporations around the world. His starting point was to look at what the city has promised and what it has delivered over the last eight years.
“In looking at costs, it should be important to consider all costs, and not just cherry pick single line items out of the financial statement,” said Woznow. “The golden rule of good accounting is full-cost accounting.
“Using this cost, the taxpayers have shelled out roughly $3 million over the last eight years to create jobs in this community. Unfortunately, all of this money has resulted in zero, good-paying, permanent jobs. So why the huge gap between promises and reality?”
The key for Powell River, said Woznow, is to understand what businesses are going to do if they are looking at Powell River as a place to locate. He said each one is going to do extensive research on what has happened here.
“I could talk for hours about the various reports they would get back from the consultants but I just want to highlight a couple of things so you understand the process these corporations go through,” said Woznow.
He said the first issue was PRSC limited partnership with the city, Tla’amin Nation and Catalyst Paper Corporation. In 2006, the city took out a $1.5 million loan to become a one-third partner in a company that owns 800 acres of land, according to Woznow. He said Tla’amin, Catalyst and the city agreedthe land had to be sold only to purchasers who would support economic development, have a proven track record and the finances to carry out their plans.
In 2012, the city borrowed $1.5 million to buy out, along with Tla’amin, Catalyst’s position, said Woznow. In 2016, PRSC accepted a conditional offer for all of the old golf course lands. He said no one seemed to check if the buyer had the financial capability as required by the PRSC agreement.
At the same time the offer was put in, a group of local investors, of which Woznow was one, put in a backup offer for the old golf course lands, he added.
“However, PRSC refused to accept our backup offer,” said Woznow. “Further, the offer fell through and they refused to accept an offer from us. They have done that twice. I’m sure there were others that put in offers also.”
In 2019, without any notice to anybody, a portion of the lands were offered to Sino Bright school at considerably below market value, according to Woznow.
“There was still no interest in getting competitive bids from local residents,” said Woznow. “So the question is: why?”
Other PRSC lands have been sold previously to local people, added Woznow.
The next thing Woznow said he wanted to look at is Santé Veritas Therapeutics, the cannabis facility in Townsite. He said there have been many press releases touting the hundreds of jobs that would be created in 2017, then 2018, and now 2019.
“Most recently, mayor Formosa announced that TILT Holdings, which now owns all of Santé Veritas, will make Powell River their research centre; this is truly amazing,” said Woznow. “The TILT Holdings website states Santé Veritas is one of the few licensed producers in Canada, and it has a developed facility and a robust portfolio of wholesale contracts. This is all hogwash. The city knows it, the Peak knows it, the radio station knows it, but nobody says it.”
Woznow said he could go on a long time about the recent airport lease. He said the question investors are going to ask is why did the city not seek the advice of Jason Rekve, the president and general manager of Aero Design, in negotiating the lease with the foreign company.
“Jason has created a world-class aviation support manufacturing facility near Lund,” said Woznow. “He knows what it takes to get approval from Transport Canada to create job opportunities. Nobody at the city asked him anything. He even volunteered but there was no interest.”
Woznow said there are four things he would like council to consider. First is establishing a new economic development body chaired by councillor Cindy Elliott and composed of experienced business people from Powell River and other areas in BC.
The second is to recruit a seasoned economic development manager with a solid track record of attracting real businesses. Ideally, they would have a solid understanding of pulp mills, logging, shipbuilding, as well as the high-tech industries, said Woznow.
The third is to adopt a policy of open, respectful dialogue, with residents such as Pat Martin, whose goal is to help taxpayers understand how their taxes are being spent. Woznow said corporations coming into this city would like to see that level of respect from elected and appointed officials.
Woznow’s last point was to ask council to accept that leadership is sometimes going against your friends on council in order to act in the best interests of the residents of Powell River.
Mayor and council at the conclusion of the meeting did not comment on Woznow’s presentation, and mayor Dave Formosa and chief administrative officer Russell Brewer chose not to comment when asked after the meeting.