This last week has brought home the stark reality that the glory days are now in the rearview mirror for the forest industry. It’s tragic that an industry that was the foundation of our city is now struggling in the face of the pine beetle, spruce beetle, forest fires, and new provincial government harvesting restrictions. Although forestry will remain an important industry and employer in Prince George, the city needs to expedite the further broadening of our economic base. One option that should be strongly considered is a convention centre.
Although the Civic Centre can host a 1,000 person sit-down meal, it cannot do so while hosting a convention at the same time. For conventions, the most that it can host for sit-down meals is approximately 350 people, as the space must be shared between the banquet room, breakout rooms, presentation, and tradeshow space.
This week, the BC Natural Resources Forum is being hosted here. With every sit-down meal sold out, they are expecting almost 1,000 delegates to attend. The expected direct economic benefit to our city is approximately $1 million. It is an excellent showcase of the value of conventions to our city and the need for an actual convention centre.
The value starts with the who’s who list of people who come to Prince George to attend. In this case it’s the premier and cabinet ministers. It’s likely to be the only time this year (unless there is an early provincial election) that they will be in our city. I’m certain Mayor Simon Yu will take advantage of this opportunity to champion our issues and opportunities in face-to-face meetings.
Like with major sporting events, conventions bring people from out of town with the economic benefits rippling throughout our city. The number of flights to Prince George are directly related to the number of people traveling through our airport. Shuttle, taxi, and U-Ride drivers benefit from transporting attendees from the airport. Convention delegates stay in hotels and dine at local restaurants. Some will shop at our local stores. The operation of the convention itself has further impact as sound and staging crews,as well as event staff, are hired.
The indirect benefit of hosting conventions comes via future tourist visits for those who return with their families to explore the breath-taking wilderness opportunities our region offers. There’s also the possibility of using them as recruiting outreach for people who are tired of their two-to-three-hour commutes to work, or who want to be able to buy a house that their children won’t still be making payments on.
As the City of Prince George begins its Civic Core District Plan consultation on what to do with the now vacant land next to the Civic Centre, besides replacing aging infrastructure, they should begin by looking at it through the lens of economic development for our city. If they do, then the inclusion of a multipurpose convention and tradeshow space and the opportunities around that is a great place to start.
Cameron Stolz is a Prince George writer.