Q&A with Williams Lake EDO Alan Madrigga

September 24, 2014


Williams Lake is gaining momentum – the central B.C. city has been increasing their presence in the tourism industry.
Northern Development recently got in touch with Alan Madrigga, Economic Development Officer for the City of Wiliams Lake, to get the scoop on growth, opportunities and strategic priorities.

Q: You have worked in economic development environments with development corporations, societies and municipal government since the early 1990’s. What are the most significant developments you have seen  in Williams Lake since your start?

A: In general, advances in technology have and continue to generate some of the most significant effects to our community and region’s various industries, as well as how we approach community development.

From a community development perspective, the web has really changed how we are able to communicate and promote communities. For example, corporate site selectors research first via the web versus contacting communities directly like they may have back in the ‘90’s. So investments in web design, communication, promotion, and understanding the associated analytics tools has changed, in part, how community development resources are allocated.

In terms of major business activity, I would say the resurgence of the mining industry over the last decade in Williams Lake has had the most substantial direct positive impact to the local economy. Hundreds of new jobs, and hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investments in our immediate area have all contributed to maintaining population, improving local confidence, and enhanced various service sector business opportunities.

We have seen corporate consolidation in the forest industry, which has assisted in local mills staying open and remaining competitive. Local forest companies continue to invest in capital improvements, and more is being done with wood fibre today in Williams Lake than ever before. Reality television is even showcasing a Williams Lake based company. Pioneer Log Homes of British Columbia is the subject of the HGTV show Timber Kings. The show is also broadcast on the Discovery channel in the US. This kind of media exposure is a big benefit to say the least.

Q:The annual Williams Lake Stampede is one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of central and northern B.C. What do you think is the secret to the Stampede’s continual success?

A: I think the secret to the continued success of the Williams Lake Stampede is the ongoing dedication of the Association members and the many volunteers to produce an amazing event every year. Also, I think the Stampede Association has paid close attention to their program content. They have worked hard to improve the experience for the attendees every year. This means meeting the expectations of delivering competitive world class rodeo events but also injecting fresh entertainment ideas, to attract new visitors and keep people coming back.

Q:What are the City of Williams Lake’s strategic economic development priorities this year?

A:Strategic priority areas this year include initiatives that support small business development,  including a program called Small Town Love, that showcases independently owned retail and service businesses. Additional strategic priorities include new business opportunity profiling and marketing, skilled worker attraction, and downtown revitalization. We have also been assisting local efforts to establish the City’s profile as a mountain bike tourist destination through marketing and service feasibility research.

Q: What advice do you have for young professional seeking rewarding careers in central and northern B.C.?

A:There are a number of industries in Central BC requiring skilled workers and services. Consider your skills and abilities and keep abreast of the new projects and developments that are happening across the region. In addition, existing industries face an ongoing need to adapt to change, improve efficiency and productivity.

With a strong work ethic, and attention to matching their skills and abilities to the needs of new developments or existing industries, young professionals have a great opportunity to drive their own careers in this region. What we’ve heard from young professionals in Williams Lake is that they see more chances to get involved and have a positive influence in their community. It is much more affordable to live here (versus other parts of the province), leaving you dollars to spend on enjoying our world class outdoor recreation assets. So, make your way here, for an exceptional balance of career and lifestyle.

Q:In your role, you implement the City’s economic development initiatives, and were involved in the planning and development of the City’s Tourism Discovery Centre. What are some positive results from the Centre since it opened?

A:There have been a number of positive results from the Tourism Discovery Centre (TDC), but one of the most important goals that it has met is to significantly increase the number of visitors served. Northern Development was a major funding partner for the project and shares in this success. One of the challenges we had prior to the building of the TDC was that despite the Chamber of Commerce being rated (by Tourism BC) as giving some of the best customer service to visitors, the building size and accessibility resulted in relatively few people stopping at the old centre.

Visitor numbers have ranged from 70% to more than 100% higher than the previous facility. More than 20,000 people now visit the Tourism Discovery Centre each year. This allows local business and area tourism operators to market their operations to many more travelers than before. When asked at trade shows residents in southern BC who had been to Williams Lake consistently report better knowledge about what the City and area has to offer as a vacation destination, than before the Centre was built. The information and displays in the TDC are noted as a primary reason for this improved knowledge of our area. Essentially, the TDC has resulted in stopping far more visitors and giving them a better sense of what our area has to offer them.

Q:If a tourist only had one day in Williams Lake – what would you recommend they do?

A:Williams Lake is a hub community in the Cariboo-Chilcotin and this is especially true from a tourism perspective.
If you are into outdoor adventure, a day is easily spent riding some of the 200 kms of single track mountain bike trails within the City limits. There are trails for every skill level, and one of the largest bike parks in BC’s interior for you to get warmed up on. Keep your energy level up in between downhill or river valley rides and grab a tasty meal or snacks at any one of our well-appointed eateries ~ many are biker friendly, with racks out front. Finish off the day with a massage at one of the day spas in the downtown, followed with a nice meal with local foods at a restaurant overlooking the lake.

If you prefer to keep the adrenalin levels lower, a day is well spent doing a walk about the downtown. Here you can soak in a variety of impressive building murals depicting local culture, while picking up some new treasures at unique shops. Not to miss in the downtown, get lost in history at the Museum of the Cariboo-Chilcotin home to BC’s Cowboy Hall of Fame. For your artistic side visit the Station House (Art) Gallery and gift shop. In between, enjoy a nice lunch at a coffee bistro or restaurant. Finish off your afternoon at Scout Island Nature Centre where the interpretive centre and walking trails inform you about local wildlife and let you see some first hand. Finish off the day with dinner at a restaurant featuring local beef and produce.