Six months ago, Greater Victoria was celebrating one of its strongest business climate in years.
Now, much like the rest of the world, it’s facing an economic recovery that could take years.
All around Vancouver Island, local economies are faltering. Health-care systems are strained. We’re all told to stay at home and when we do venture out to observe social distancing.
Blame the coronavirus.
Even futurist Jim Bottomley didn’t see it coming.
“This isn’t like any economic downturn before because when you look at past recessions, typically they’re human-made,” said Bottomley, a Sooke resident.
“This time it’s an actual physical threat. It’s a very scary because people didn’t see it coming.”
But recovery is coming, say officials.
Paul Nursey, the CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, says the Island’s tourism industry was the first to be affected by the COVID-19-induced slump, and will likely be the last to fully recover.
His group is working on an 18-month plan through to next summer that aims to keep as much of the industry intact as possible, including reaching out for more government support.
“It’s really about making sure [those government measures] can actually help us back to recovery and are not just there in the short term. Otherwise, I can’t see how our small- to medium-sized businesses are going to last until next summer,” Nursey said.
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait, who is also president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, said recovery will likely look different from one corner of the province to the other.
“We know a rush to recover economically will result in a spike of [COVID19] cases,” she said.
The road to recovery will be long and hard for most industries, Bottomley said.
“This is something that’s not going away,” he said, noting the 1918 flu pandemic lasted nearly two years, and the second wave was bigger than the first.
“The scary part about this particular virus is that it’s very spreadable.”
But there are positives, Bottomley said.
As with any major disruption throughout world history, society has changed – often for the better.
He predicts a “real disruption” on how industries work, more entrepreneurs (although he admits many small businesses will likely shutter), and how we connect each with each other through innovation and technology.
Many businesses have realized that employees can work at home – and be productive, and that will mean communities like Sooke could be in for more growth.
“Companies won’t locate to where they want to locate. They’ll be going to where the workers live,” Bottomley said, noting we are entering an innovation age where jobs and careers are changing.
Tait said the District of Sooke is already seeing that movement as council work towards a new work plan for some of its employees.
“We’re likely going to see more municipal staff work at home permanently, those who don’t necessarily meet with the public on a daily basis,” she said.
“We’ve seen through the pandemic productivity and performance climb through the roof.”
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The quickest way to economic recovery is to find a vaccine for COVID-19, says futurist Jim Bottomley.
Vaccines are perceived as key to ending the restraints on work and life that have decimated the global economy, and returning to some sense of normalcy.
Worldwide, there are nearly five million positive cases and over 300,000 have been killed by the virus.
“The vaccine is what everyone is hoping for – and the sooner the better. But it could still be years away,” Bottomley said.