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Sidney’s downtown identified as an economic strength, but challenges also found

Report to council the first of two informing Sidney’s economic development strategy
A new economic study assessing Sidney’s current situation finds its waterfront and shoreline access, as well as waterfront views, a strength. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

A report designed to help Sidney develop an economic strategy finds a familiar list of challenges facing the community, while also highlighting strengths.

The report by Lions Gate Consulting, the first of two to be delivered on the topic, was presented to council at its Monday meeting (March 28). It assessed Sidney’s current situation using information gained from such sources as community and business surveys, current town and regional growth policies and objectives, and economic and employment data prepared by the South Island Prosperity Project, Sidney’s partner on the strategy.

As part of a strengths, challenges and opportunities analysis, the report stated, “(Sidney) has many economic and socio-community strengths it can play to. Its quality of life is best characterized by its small-town ambiance and a tight-knit community that enjoys a strong sense of place.”

The town’s relatively compact layout was also seen as a strength, with livability enhanced by the fact many amenities and services such as recreational facilities and green spaces are within walking distance. As well, the highway, ferry and nearby air travel connections makes Sidney accessible to 80 per cent of the provincial market.

Looking at the existing business mix, the report pointed to a “tight-knit group of diversified and future-orientated entrepreneurs and three main economic areas in the West Side, Harbour Road and Downtown districts, which offer strong potential for future growth and development.”

Challenges identified included the related issues of workforce housing and labour availability and retention – about 45 per cent of Sidney’s workforce comes from outside the community. Another is the fact Sidney has twice the percentage of seniors at 41 per cent than the province as a whole.

The report also characterizes as challenges the relatively limited transit options, lack of visual appeal, “friction between industrial and residential uses,” and balancing growth with Sidney’s small-town character.

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“Sidney is not immune to NIMBYism by residents, but if a balanced set of community values are to be achieved there is little doubt that industrial, commercial and residential development will have to occur in alignment,” it states. “Without a strong tax and employment base a bedroom community will emerge, which over time may compromise the area’s quality of life.”

Looking at broader trends that could shape Sidney in the future, the report argues the pandemic has triggered or accelerated changes in shopping behaviour that will permanently alter consumer businesses and the way communities plan around them.

“The shift to online retail and e-commerce is real and is expected to stick. What this means for high streets and downtowns is not yet clear, but persistent retail vacancies suggest new solutions are needed.”

Despite noting the heavy focus on Beacon Avenue over other industrial districts, the report also identifies Sidney’s downtown as a strength. “Unlike many communities across Canada, the downtown is diverse and vibrant and remains a regional retail and shopping destination.”

It also suggests Sidney could benefit from de-urbanization. “Technology has levelled the playing field for smaller cities and regions to compete for investment and talent, however, other factors are helping to drive ‘de-urbanization’ of the world’s cities.”

The report also identifies millennials as “the largest growing pool of workers” and a “substantial economic asset” for regions “To retain and attract this generation the focus needs to be on equal parts economic opportunity and quality of place, with an emphasis on communities where people can live, work and play.”

The full report can be accessed online at

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