The job of economic development officer is arguably the most diverse one with the City of Revelstoke.
The portfolio includes affordable housing, social development, transit, education, tourism, supporting with non-profts, and helping new and existing businesses.
“Some days I feel like I’m on a weird version of a Canadian realty TV show because it’s talking about a multi-million dollar development, then answering the phone to a complaint about the handyDART,” Nicole Fricot, Revelstoke’s new economic development officer, told me. “Those two are very different experiences.”
I met with Fricot at the Business Information Centre last week, 1.5 months after she took over the position from Alan Mason. It’s been a busy start as she’s worked to familiarize herself with the many aspects of her role.
“It’s classic, small, rural community economic development,” she said. “You have to be a multi-tasker and you have to be interested in working on multiple different projects at once, and very diverse projects.”
Fricot grew up in Salmon Arm and moved around Canada and abroad before settling in Revelstoke four years ago with her husband Nico Leenders. They met while doing their Masters of Business Administration at the University of Calgary. They have three children aged one, four and six.
Before Revelstoke, they lived in Chatham-Kent, a largely rural county in southwest Ontario. There, Leenders worked for a large auctioning firm, while Fricot was a consultant on various projects, including the development of an innovation centre in a region recovering from the decline of the automotive industry.
“The innovation centre was an attempt to see if they could increase entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. The problem is people aren’t necessarily moving to Chatham for those reasons,” she said. “It’s a very different scenario than Revelstoke, where we are in a situation where people really want to be here and our challenge is almost the opposite. Development is happening so fast that we have to make sure Revelstoke stays a place where people want to live.”
In 2013, Leenders was hired as the marketing manager for Revelstoke Mountain Resort and they jumped at the chance to move back west. Fricot continued to work as a consultant for all three levels of government, businesses, and non-profits.
She was one of 41 people that applied to replace Mason. She said she found economic development work to be the “most impactful” while she was a consultant and that if she really wanted to make a difference, she had to get into management.
Fricot sees her role as fostering a diverse and strong community and economy. She wants to help businesses navigate the bureaucracy at city hall.
“I think one of the things that I thrive on, I love process,” she said. “Even though sometimes people get really frustrated with city processes, I thrive with making it through. When I see something that is tricky or I know is not that easy to get through, I love finding the path through it. I find that awesome.”
She doesn’t see Revelstoke having an issue attracting businesses and development, but one of her big concerns is wage levels.
“We have a lot of very educated people, but finding jobs that pay people enough for them to live can be difficult,” she said. “It’s not just looking at tourism, it’s looking at all of the other sectors and saying can we somehow bring in or foster industry that allows people to make a better wage — that middle wage.”
There are several ways to do this. One is to continue the work on making Revelstoke an attractive place for people to live. Another is to support entrepreneurs who are starting new businesses and helping existing business grow.
“The one thing we have in Revelstoke is people here are a bit gutsy and they’re inventive and creative,” she said. “If we continue to foster an entrepreneurial culture and help them succeed, that’s a good way of increasing the number of people that are making that middle wage.
“I think my number one priority is growing the ecosystem that will allow those businesses to thrive.”
She doesn’t see forestry or the railway going anywhere, and says relations with those industries need to be maintained.
One of her big challenges will be helping the community as the economy and environment changes and jobs that don’t exist today are created tomorrow.
“I think a big piece of my job is being as best informed as I can, keeping myself up to date on all these things and being open to trying to help the city to figure out how to develop the policies and infrastructure and attitude to be open when they come,” she said. “We have to be resilient. I think a big part of what I hope to do is build us into a resilient economy. The more diverse the better.”