COMMENTARY · 24th March 2010
Terrace is about to die quietly. It has the cultural capacities to resist total eclipse. While it does not have a diversified economy, there is sufficient agricultural and fishing activity in the region to sustain a small resilient population. It is beset with ethnic conflict, but, while there is tension, there is also a good deal of tolerance for diverse lifestyles, and the subtler, more petty forms of racism do not threaten to blow up into uglier or more systemic forms. There remains a local leadership independent of the external economic powers, and that leadership, both within the established institutions and within the oppositional groups, is strongly and clearly attached to the region and the community.
All of this not withstanding, the resource base for the major industry is weak, and employment is declining. The economic situation in the town was poor when the study was undertaken; more recently it has relapsed into an even worse state with the closure of the […] Mill […] and the erosion of the markets. No group has sufficient power to overcome the difficulties of a resource-based economy which has an over mature and overcut forestry base. There is little point in labour confronting local managements or even distant owners and the government: the time to save the industry has passed. The only way out of the staples trap in which the town is caught is to develop a new industrial base that would accord with the population’s evident concern for the environment, yet which would provide employment on a continuing basis.
Shocked? The foregoing two paragraphs were written by author Patricia Marchak in her book ‘Green Gold’. One would think she wrote these words this past year, but, no, the date of publication? 1983, twenty seven years ago.
The forestry industry continued for quite some time partly due to Bill McRae encouraging Hank Ketchum and West Fraser to purchase the Skeena Saw Mills just before it went to auction. It would have died a whimpering death like the New Mill in the Center of Terrace did in 2006 way back in the ‘80’s had it not been for a couple of enterprising minds working together to keep the men working and the money flowing.
“The doers have all left.” stated McRae, “the takers are still here.”
McRae doesn’t mince words. No love lost for the bankers, he never had any in the first place; just another group of takers. This goes for so many in the economic/business community today. All sorts of fancy shirts and ties but not a rough working hand amongst them. Grabbing for a firm hand shake is like grabbing a limp fish with most of these boys. The enterprising minds of these fancy shirts are as equally intelligent as the fish, grabbing and nibbling at the fancy lure floating in the water but not once going out and doing anything original on their own.
From the turn of the century, that being 1900 (not 2000) the BC economy has always been driven by forestry. Nothing, not even mining has surpassed the forest economy as being the prime driver of the BC Governments revenue source, that which provides us all with economic security. This wasn’t just easy, it was ludicrously so. The forest companies could just walk into any area, usually the nice relaxing drive up a gentle valley, buck down a few thousand cubic meters of wood and drink champagne for years. As the decades passed along with environmental awareness, the limitations encroached and things began to change.
Terrace, however, started much the same way. The first economic adventure with trees was to provide ‘cord wood’ for the river boats. It would be cut chopped and stacked for the boats carrying the explorers and prospectors. Trees were not cut for lumber here back in those days. When the railway was built they needed ties and that was the start of the real mill prospects. Then came the pole market for the telegraph trail, which continued for many decades along with the flourishing lumber industry.
It was the Men of the previous 10 decades that had original ideas, concepts and imagination, dreams, visions, that put not just their money, but their heart, soul and elbow grease into making things happen.
When the Skeena Sawmill was about to be auctioned off, McRae saw that his men, native and non-native would not just be losing their jobs, but also their pensions. He called his friend Hank and together they worked out a plan to utilize all of the material harvested from the forest. The sawmill in Terrace and the pulp mill in Kitimat could work together like a finely oiled machine. There were many other details such as getting the trucks to haul the chips instead of the rail as the rail company was anything but cooperative and this initiated yet another industry for truckers; cost effective and all as a result of enterprising minds.
If it wasn’t for Hank and Bill having that conversation back when Marchak was penning her book in the early ‘80’s, Terrace and the region would have not endured the prosperity, however limited, that it enjoyed for the next two decades.
Today, we are faced with the very same reality, which could have been addressed in 1983. Bigotry and racism and a dying town.
TEDA (Terrace Economic Development Authority) is a fine organization except that it is run by those people McRae calls takers. We need Doers.
When they (TEDA) hosted the Skeena Summit last Fall, guest speaker Roger Brooks exclaimed “The Industrial Revolution is over, Period!” as he opened his presentation before 64 captivated locals, “There are still ghost towns in the making all over North America.”
He did everything he could to enlighten those who are apparently in charge of economic activity for the region. In McRae’s day it was the men. Today it appears to be boy’s.
If there was to be a pellet plant, an electrical power producing wood burning facility, or any other economic engine driving the local economy it would require a combination of concepts and ideas. A visionary prepared to put his own money where his mouth was, like Hank and Bill and the other doers of the past, Gary Ward, came forward last summer and brought a plan together with a number of components to make a successful venture. TEDA and the takers messed that up.
In the fall of 2009 Brooks saw the solution as did Marchak in 1983. The difficulty is the problem identified by Marchak when she wrote about the petty forms of racism.
They are not petty and they threaten to destroy an opportunity Brooks identified as our greatest potential; the native culture.
The following is simply reproduced from an earlier writing regarding Brooks visit to Terrace.
The first message was simple and clear. A community might attempt to attract an industrial activity but investing any time or dollars in that direction is a waste of productive energy. The only current potential for generating revenue is in attracting Baby Boomers to tour and visit.
“95 million baby boomers control 70 percent of North America’s wealth.” proclaimed Brooks adding that 80 percent of all travel spending is done by the baby boomers.
Anyone present that missed this message and is still considering attracting an industry, whether it be logging, manufacturing or a pipeline, was either sleeping or deaf.
The second message was regarding the internet. “The internet has changed everything.” he stated, claiming 75 percent of North Americans have the internet and the baby boomers will be looking for their travel destination on the net. They will not however be looking for a destination. They will be looking for an activity. Brooks talked about the Google search engine and referring to how people use the results of a search.
“86 percent won’t go past the first page. Location is secondary to the primary draw.” he stated, “The web should be your number one priority.”
Over and over again he drilled into the crowd that the current community advertising was completely ineffective, a complete waste of time and money. He presented a list of words and phrases to avoid such as; explore, discover, historic downtown, so much to see and do, center of it all, your playground, recreational paradise etc. The lists of activities and attractions are also the same in every community; biking, hiking, scenery, restaurants, skiing, music, history etc, etc. Brooks was adamant, the region needs to set itself apart from everywhere else; “97 percent of all community advertising is ineffective. […] What do you have they can’t get closer to home?”
The ‘Northwest’ is a term used all over the world and in North America, where the baby boomers with the traveling wealth are, think about the States of Oregon or Washington, maybe Vancouver but certainly not the Terrace and Prince Rupert area of BC. Brooks hammered this home by stating “Alaska is not thought of as the northwest either.”
The summation of the evening was easy to understand after he provided numerous entertaining examples of failures and successes. What do we have here, marketable to the boomers, that they cannot get anywhere else or closer to home. Brooks even provided much of the answer himself when he spoke about the aboriginal works he purchased after he arrived here. He stated he spent thousands of dollars on art he couldn’t get in Vancouver.
This is the primary draw, the marketable feature, the only feature of the region the marketing material must highlight. The shotgun approach of listing everything is a useless waste of time and energy. All of the fabulous entertainment and pristine features of the area will be discovered once the tourist arrives. The fishing is fabulous as are the beautiful autumn colours but a tourist will not drive for days to get these experiences when they can get it much, much closer to home, explained Brooks. We need to get them here first and a primary draw card is the only thing we need to advertise. All of the other features will benefit once the tourist arrives.
“Are you worth the added cost and hassle?” he asked after talking about the driving and air flights. “The narrower your focus, the greater your success, you must jettison the generic. Don’t be all things to all people.”
Once the boomer arrives the region needs to provide high quality food and entertainment. Their interests are; arts, cuisine, open air markets, and home and garden. Closing shop at 5:00 pm when the visitor returns to town after touring the region is also unacceptable. Brooks stated 70 percent of all spending is after 6 pm. The travel season is not the summer either; it is April, May and September, October.
His final message was about community politics. He spoke about how the old timers of some communities, the political structure, destroys the best ideas. In Terrace we could allow the political crowd to push the Riverboat theme, the historical draw, at the expense of a truly productive unique draw. Brooks stated this needs to be a grass roots effort, “No more strategic plans!” he shouted. “These are not primary draws,” and he listed, ‘your location, historic downtowns, scenic.’
The example Brooks provided of a community losing the opportunity to market itself, after having a many major million dollar investors on board, due to political interference was as shocking as it was enlightening. The following day, as the event was coming to a close, Harling read off a list of attractions and features of the region a focus session, held earlier, had selected as major draws of the region. Some of these appeared to have been selected more for their political and business connections rather than the truly high quality expected by the ‘self absorbed’ baby boomers. This was a very productive gathering and the speakers were of high quality. How those in attendance utilize what they learned may have a significant impact on the economy. Brooks made it very clear what needs to be done that the potential for a ‘Booming’ economy is ripe, just waiting out there for us to attract and capture.
Yes, the forgoing was written in 2009, and still TEDA is going for an industrial enterprise. Good for them.
A chance meeting with TEDA’s Chairperson Daryl Tucker yesterday may provide some new context to this difficulty for Terrace to achieve economic vitality. Tucker recognized the location where Brooks purchased his Native artwork. Then considered, and even described the talk Brooks gave on the example of a community losing the opportunity to market itself, after having a major million dollar investor on board, due to political interference that was as shocking as it was enlightening.
“You mean the Corvettes left in the garage?” he stated.
Terrace has an attraction just waiting for the world population to visit, our matriarchal first nations culture in the most environmentally pristine area on the planet. Nothing compares to it, any where.
The baby boomers want it and the BC provincial government wants to threaten it with a pipeline of crude oil and bathtub tankers ready to spill their load.
Terrace has an opportunity.
The story Brooks told, referring to our opportunity, was about a guy who owned every model of every corvette ever manufactured. Even the Mattel Barbie group wanted a part of exposing this. Major hotels were planned and budgeted.
The Local City officials stymied it.
McRae speaks fondly of his past and the native workers who helped the region prosper during the hey days of the forest economy. They always worked hard and if they didn’t show up (a payday drunk), the “moccasin trail” would take over and he would get another hard worker.
Racism and bigotry has no place in Terrace today. It never did.
It is our Native culture, the true heritage of the region, which will bring prosperity. Ironic eh?
Comment by Jamie Schectman on 28th March 2010
As an outsider who tryed to bring positive growth and worldwide attention to Terrace via the Shames Mountain Co-Op, I can honestly say I was not greeted with open arms.
To this day, I still can't understand why a town with a declining population and depressed economy would choose not to embrace change and forward thinking ideas.
Trying to move an iceberg hopelessly
Comment by Kirill Dzubanov, P. Eng. on 25th March 2010
Interesting article, I agree. However, mentioning "industry" he meant strictly - forestry, mining, hydro and oil (pipeline). He did not say (or he did not want to) anything about so called "hi-tech" sector, such as pharmaceutical, biotechnology, cosmetics, organic food manufacturers, computer software, R & D (civilian & military).....Those industries do not impact environment, create good employment and educational base, good revenues to the communities and have no competition with tourism (baby boomers desires as well) whatsoever. Think about this.......
The problem is - there are no right people in power in those regions to do anything about it. The old foxes have very limited vision, but they will fight to death to keep their seats in the local governments (at least some steady income) when everything else around is going to drain. I was in the region once the last year and visited it again this January 2010 trying to understand how to move this iceberg of the hopelessness. I talked to the some people and presented this vision (hi-tech development and tourism), but……Frustrating, right? There are many ways of making it happen, but we need to stick together with our minds to do so.
Comment by Helmut Giesbrecht on 24th March 2010
As someone I read sometimes reminds us: "Wealth can not be created, only taken". That suggests that the society we build really depends on how many benefit from the "taken" wealth. If we assume that all wealth comes originally from the earth's resources and the population "owns it" in some way, you would think that allowing governments and corporations to pimp away our resources to the profit margins of a few corporations would be abhorrent. You would think? And we still have not thought of the global implications.
Let's Discuss This
Comment by Northwest Science & Innovation on 24th March 2010
Register for the Think SMALL Forum on March 29th at the Best Western from 8:30-4:00pm to discuss ideas on how we can diversify our economy. Changes in our economy and our society are redefining how we live and work, build successful enterprises and create economic opportunity. Most of this economic growth is occurring among small businesses and more jobs are being created by small firms.
Through presentations, panel discussions and information sharing let's help develop new initiatives directed at helping businesses survive and prosper in the Skeena Nass Region. 4 Panel Discussions titled: From Idea to Venture, Getting the Help Your Business Needs, Thinking Outside the Box, Small Town: Big Opportunity.
Registration for the day event is $50 which includes lunch and your membership with SNCIRE (http://www.sncire.ca//). Or just register for the lunch speaker, Tom Jensen: Assistant Deputy Minister-RuralBC Secretariat---speaking on "The Important & Importance of Small Business in the Local Economy" Registration for just the lunch session is $15.00.
Register by calling NSiS at 638-0950 or 1-877-297-6747.