Mayor Ken Sim speaks: “Vancouver is open for business”

The city’s top official revealed his vision for the next four years in his State of the City address.

As Vancouver emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic – and potentially slides into a recession – eyes will be on new mayor Ken Sim to lay a strong path forward for the city’s individuals and companies. Yesterday, speaking to a business audience gathered by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, he unveiled his State of the City address. The 30-minute speech and accompanying fireside chat laid out his outline for the future of Vancouver, which he said will bolster the vibrancy and economic prosperity of the area.

For Sim, it was clear that business is a top priority. After removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves – and thanking his team at City Hall – he launched into a new line of messaging: that it was time for Vancouver to be bold.

“The next four years are going to be about awakening the giants of Vancouver industry,” he said. “It's going to be about unlocking the creativity and the innovation of a new generation of Vancouverites. And it's going to be about positioning Vancouver as the best place on earth to live, work, and play. So make no mistake about it. Vancouver is open for business again.”

The theme found its refrain across the speech. At multiple moments, in lists and beyond, business took the top spot. And while the audience makeup may have contributed to his choice of focus, the innovation economy featured heavily in his remarks. Citing Vancouver’s expertise in the metaverse, Web3, AR/VR, AI, technical clothing, and others, the mayor demonstrated a knowledge of key up-and-coming industries. “Not a lot of people know what's going on, " he said of Vancouver’s innovation economy. “That’s going to change.”

Beyond tech, Sim highlighted small businesses as a priority. Pointing out that SMEs are a major driver of Vancouver’s prosperity, he linked the community to the revitalization of the city. “The goal is to create an environment where people want to invest in Vancouver,” he said. “The question we should be asking at City Hall is, ‘How can we help you and your business succeed?’” The mayor namechecked regulatory red tape, safety and security, street vibrancy, and affordability as key components to fix for local businesses to flourish, and listed how the current council has “already started to work on some of these issues” in various neighbourhoods, including its $2.2 million investment into Chinatown.

No speech about the state of Vancouver, though, can fail to mention its issues. Sim initially made light of the challenges, suggesting that he saw every problem as an opportunity – and that there were a lot of opportunities in Vancouver. In the latter half of the address, however, he delved into the local problems. The mayor namechecked housing, mental health, public safety, affordability challenges, changing demographics, transportation limitations, and Vancouver’s reputation as a “no-fun city”, and how these have led to difficulties in attracting and retaining talent locally. Above all, he cited housing as the largest issue, and that his council was committed to tabling and approving buildings faster. “I want to be very clear once again,” he said. “Vancouver does not have a shadow of crisis. Vancouver does not have a vehicle crisis. In Vancouver, we have a housing crisis.”

The address ended on the same note on which it began: the importance of boosting Vancouver’s profile on the world stage. Sim opened the address by asking the audience to imagine the feeling of flying to Hong Kong in the early ‘90s, or the experience of visiting Miami, Austin, or London today. With a vision that seemed to focus outward as much as looking inwards at fixing Vancouver’s local issues, the mayor closed his speech with an appeal to the audience.

“I'm personally asking each one of you for help,” he said. “When you travel to another place, let people know that Vancouver is open for business again. Tell everyone that you meet that Vancouver wants their investment. Vancouver wants their business, and we will do what it takes to help them succeed. And tell them Vancouver's back.”

While no 30-minute address can cover all the problems facing the city – and Sim’s speech was wide-reaching – certain elements were notably omitted. No reference was made to the hospital staffing crisis, and his plans to hire 100 mental health nurses to help in the Downtown Eastside remained uninterrogated in the fireside chat that followed, despite suggestions that filling the posts will be a difficult task. The overdose crisis, too, slipped by without a mention.

The question also stands about how much of Sim’s plans will be achievable in a province that looks likely to slide into a recession. Much of the mayor’s vision to develop a vibrant arts scene, improve public safety, and revitalize the city’s neighbourhoods will require vast amounts of capital – money that will be harder to come by in a tough economic climate.

The mayor, however, proved to be a realist in his timelines for change. Many local politicians are voted out of office because their promises are unachievable – think, for example, of former mayor Gregor Robertson’s claim to end homelessness in the city by 2015 – or because developments are not happening quickly enough. Sim chose to manage expectations in his address.

“Now, the hard truth is, it's gonna take time, it's gonna take effort,” he said in his speech. “And it won't be easy. There will be setbacks. There will be false starts. And we're going to make mistakes. It’s not going to change overnight. [...] People overestimate what can be achieved in four years. But they underestimate what can happen in 10.”


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