Q&A with Lee Malleau

You head an independent city commission. Doing what?
We’re the one organization in Vancouver tasked with looking at what role the city can play in managing the local economy, or intervening, to make sure there’s prosperity. With mature industries—say, the mining sector—we make sure they’re getting what they need: legislative support, access to resources. With emerging industries, we focus on what needs the most help and has the most potential for growth. In Vancouver, for instance, there’s a large lack of early support for startup companies.

And what do they most need?
We really need to pull up our socks in supporting our entrepreneurs. People from head office seldom, if ever, relocate once they’re rooted. The only time they do is if they’re extremely dis-incentivized where they are, and extremely incentivized where they’re going. Well, we don’t have incentives provincially, federally, or municipally; we can’t offer them millions of dollars in tax credits to come here. So we better support and grow our own corporate head offices instead.

Tax credits seem like a race to the bottom anyway. Are there more sustainable ways to support industries?
It’s true that we had a couple of Vancouver animation companies move to Montreal because Montreal was willing to put more money on the table to buy those jobs. At the same time, though, three international companies moved here: GREE is one of the largest mobile-gaming companies in the world. It chose Vancouver and is already in Gastown. DeNA. And Tinyco, another one that’s absolutely a smashing success. They know the talent is here, they appreciate our proximity to Los Angeles and San Francisco, with the same time zone, and we’re financially competitive.

Vancouver is third in the world next to London and L.A. for visual effects and animation—over 1,300 media companies employing 22,000 people. Yet many here don’t recognize that strength of ours.
I don’t think a lot of people even in the industry have a good understanding of how quickly this sector has grown in Vancouver. Film and television have been here a long time, so people are used to them and don’t even blink when we see movie and film crews. But the visual effects, the animation houses—like Pixar, like Sony Pictures Imageworks and Rhythm & Hues, which was a huge coup for us. We had 14 mostly major studios move to Vancouver in the last three years. That’s a thousand jobs.

You spend a lot of time on the road telling our story to strangers. How are we perceived?
We did a bunch of focus groups before the Olympics asking, “When you think about Vancouver, what do you think of?” Everybody said: beautiful, oceans and mountains, very livable. Nobody said business. So what we’re trying to do—especially with creative industries—is say, here’s what you don’t know. The quality of the work being done here. Top talent wants to know where the best work is being done. They didn’t know that Pixar is here, Sony is here, Digital Domain, Prime Focus, Microsoft. People don’t know that Hootsuite is from Vancouver.