SUMMERLAND — The creation of an Okanagan Agriculture Innovation Centre is receiving enthusiastic support from many areas.
More than 90 percent of respondents from agri-businesses and stakeholders, such as government, research groups and potential funders, support the concept of such an innovation centre, Jane Campardo of Engage Research told council Monday morning in her report on the feasibility study.
Council also expressed strong support.
“I’m really happy it has come to this stage,” Coun. Erin Carlson said.
“I’m excited. Let’s step up and make it happen,” Coun. Janet Peake said.
Campardo also reported that Summerland was selected as the location of choice for the centre by 108 0f the 112 respondents in her study.
The main reasons included that Summerland is already a well-recognized agriculture area and has renowned agricultural assets, such as the Summerland Research and Development Centre.
“I also repeatedly heard that Summerland is central within major growing areas,” Campardo said.
Possible locations for the centre are the Nixdorf Industrial Park on Bentley Road, the Beggs’ Property (former site of Kettle Valley Dried Fruit and Mazza Innovation) on Highway 97 and the former Medicine Centre Pharmacy on Main Street.
Programs and services recommended for the OAIC by the respondents include mentoring, development of sustainable farm programs and support for facilities for product development, food testing and food safety.
The target participants would be educated 30-ish year old entrepreneurs in the early stage of business commercialization.
They would be predominantly from B.C. or wanting to locate here.
Another target group would be owners of established businesses, most likely in their 40s and 50s, with a few employees wanting to expand.
“The majority of the participants would be from this region. Several respondents suggested that application should be open worldwide,” Campardo said.
This latter group would have the potential to bring foreign investment, help raise the profile of the region and provide partners with international experience.
Campardo estimated the total project cost from 2018 to 2020 to be $1.5 million with 75 per cent coming from government and 25 per cent from industry.
“Revenues generated by the OIAC of an estimated $209,000 will be considered as the industry’s contribution for both years two and three,” Campardo said.
A significant return on investment is anticipated.
Among the potential returns is that businesses aided by centres such as the OIAC have a much greater survival rate than other start-up businesses.
This in turn leads to job creation.
Also, OIAC participants would be well positioned to find solutions to bottlenecks in the supply chain, such as quality control, food packaging and distribution.
The next step for the OIAC is the development of a business plan Campardo said.
The plan would facilitate a business strategy session, identify and select key project champions and attain letters of support and commitment from partners.
“Application for funding could start as early as this fall,” Campardo said.
“It’s exciting to see this go to the next level,” Mayor Peter Waterman said.
Council will most likely support the plan, but wants to wait until receipt of the final report of the study before making the decision.