Port Alberni hosts Dragon’s Den-style competition for entrepreneurs
This is the era of innovation in Port Alberni, where an economic recovery is gaining momentum after decades of struggles in the fishing and forestry sectors.
Investment announcements and new products have multiplied in recent months in the city of about 18,000 inhabitants.
Now the city is setting up a group of angel investors to host a Dragon’s Den-style competition for innovative entrepreneurs.
A group of promising companies will make presentations to investors, who will decide as a group or individually whether to invest money in their businesses, says Pat Deakin, director of economic development for Port Alberni.
An angel investor is usually a wealthy person who invests their own money in a start-up business and receives an interest in the business.
A high-tech businessman has already committed $ 50,000 a year for two years to the angel investor program, Deakin said.
The city is launching an announcement for an innovation economy project manager, who will be hired at the end of this month.
The project manager, working with a consultant, will help companies access training and mentoring and guide them through the challenges, Deakin said.
The work begins with a six-month contract which can be extended for a total of two years. Applications are taken until Wednesday.
“We are transitioning the economy,” Deakin said. “It’s a very, very exciting time. Literally every week, and sometimes more than once a week, we get requests from developers who want to be a part of what’s going on.
The city announced last month that it had purchased the Somass sawmill from Western Forest Products for $ 5.3 million and plans to clean up the property to develop a vibrant waterfront mixed-use site, including office space. , light manufacturing, parks, shops and housing. Once a major employer, the now-defunct sawmill last produced lumber in 2017.
Three breweries are now open and two distilleries are under construction, said Deakin, who estimates that around 1,500 people have moved to Port Alberni in the past two years.
One high-profile example of innovation in the community is a new ‘food hub’ located in what used to be an unused fish processing plant, now called The Dock +. Tenants include Nova Harvest, offering oyster and geoduck seeds, Alberni Ice, Circadian Wellness specializing in mushroom products, Forest for Dinner selling mushrooms and other wild edible products, and Flurer Smokery offering fruit from smoked sea. The property includes a commercial kitchen. (thedockplus.ca)
Over $ 1 million has been provided to modernize the plant and install new facilities for the initiative, with support from the Province, City, Island Coastal Economic Trust and Port Authority of Port Alberni.
The Island Coastal Economic Trust estimates that the company will create more than $ 5 million per year in new economic activity and add nearly 30 permanent jobs.
Meanwhile, Paper Excellence, owner of the city’s paper mill with around 300 employees, is investing $ 13 million in capital improvements to diversify into higher-value markets.
Another anchor in the local economy is the Langley-based San group of companies, which in recent weeks unveiled plans for 2,800 new homes in a mix of housing types on 73 acres in Port Alberni.
By the time the property is built, it will be estimated to be worth around $ 1 billion, the company said.
The announcement follows four years of major investments in Port Alberni by the San Group, which has a total of 425 workers in the city and is building houses to house more.
The company spent about $ 100 million to set up three lumber manufacturing facilities, including a 300,000-square-foot value-added factory, made up of seven interconnected buildings producing more than 30 products.
The plant manufactures engineered wood products, has a paint and stain line and can dry up to 440,000 board feet of lumber per day, company spokesperson Mike Ruttan said.
A new line uses robotics to double-coat (covering each side) of materials such as wood or wood products, he said.
Different species of wood, including those historically considered to be of low value such as alder, are used in this plant.
In June, the San Group announced it was investing $ 15 million in a partnership with the Port Alberni Port Authority to modernize and take over Berth Three, the largest of the port’s deep-water berths. Storage silos and quay cranes will be installed to allow the San Group to develop its value-added forestry activity.
Port Alberni has gained international attention as the home of the privately-owned family business Coulson Group, which has played a key role in fighting wildfires in California and elsewhere in the United States, Australia and Chile.
Coulson started with forestry in 1960. Over the years he has turned to aviation, lumber manufacturing, logging, games, and ice blast technology.