FICBC Faces Layoffs, Potential Closure
Abbotsford, BC – October 31, 2012. It is with great concern that we bring this issue forward. Under the Growing Forward program, a partnership between the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, a new not-for-profit organization was formed: the Food Innovation Centre of BC. FICBC’s mandate is to assist BC companies to grow their production, increase their workforces and ensure their sustainability.
With its first 12 months of business completed in mid-October 2012, FICBC is fulfilling its promise to serve as a service hub to the agri-food sector, providing referrals, skills development and online resources to food processing companies and entrepreneurs around the province.
The Centre has assisted 86 BC companies with 115 technical requests. This resulted in 116 referrals to third-party service providers supporting jobs in that sector. Over 100 clients participated in training programs and twenty-three pilot food products are now entering the evaluation or marketing phase of development. FICBC's network of partners increased its reach to entrepreneurs, start-ups and existing food processors seeking support to move their companies forward. Primary areas of assistance included finding co-packers, arranging funding, extending shelf-life, reducing sodium content, and checking nutritional levels for new products under development.
However the good news stops there.
On April 23rd of 2012 the BC Ministry of Agriculture cut the second year of funding for FICBC by over 40%. This was a severe blow to the Centre and its very survival was imperiled. The Ag Ministry advised they would seek additional funding support for FICBC but in the last seven months, despite repeated revisions of business plans and meetings, has been unable to identify any new sources of funding to support the Centre's ongoing operations.
A near complete change of personnel in the Ag Ministry including the Minister, Deputy Minister, directors and even most of the front line staff has taken place. This resulted in a restarting of discussions with all new people. Responsibility for innovation was then shifted from Ag to Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, once again restarting the discussions. And most recent shuffles of Ministerial responsibilities have shifted Innovation yet again only this time to the Ministry of Advanced Education.
Passed around with no champion, it appears the Centre will be forced to lay off all of its five staff members as early as Nov. 16th, 2012 and perhaps even be forced to shut down. If this happens, BC’s food processing industry, part of the number one economic driver of the economy, will be the loser. While the Ag Minister and the Premier continue to make speeches featuring the $ 3.5 billion in new sales and the 20,000 new jobs to be created through innovation in the agrifood sector by 2017 it seems meeting these targets is now even farther away.