09/21/2011 11:43 EDT | Updated 11/21/2011 05:12 EST

Clark tax incentives in jobs plan target small business with $3 million

VICTORIA - Economists and business leaders say Premier Christy Clark's jobs plan is short on targets and dollars, but offers a dose of confidence to businesses demoralized by the failure of the harmonized sales tax referendum and faltering economies in the U.S. and Europe.

Clark, who has been on the road this week highlighting parts of her plan, will deliver the full scope of her jobs initiative Thursday in Vancouver at a Board of Trade luncheon.

She told the Surrey Board of Trade on Wednesday her jobs plan is the prime focus of every ministry, minister and politician in her government.

"Every single ministry and every single minister knows that they have a personal role to play in making the plan come to fruition," said Clark.

Her jobs plan has taken her to Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Kamloops and Surrey. She supported port expansion in Prince Rupert, liquefied natural gas exports from Kitimat and doubling the numbers of international students studying in British Columbia in the next four years.

In Surrey, Clark added $3 million to a small business venture capital program, extended by three years a $31-million apprenticeship program and appointed Finance Minister Kevin Falcon to head a panel reviewing the B.C. tax system.

"The focus here is right," said John Winter, B.C. Chamber of Commerce president.

"It's on industries that are creating products for export. It's good economic strategy that allows new money to come into our economy, whether it's in wood products, mining products or human products like tourism and education."

Winter said he will be looking for more details on job projections following Thursday's announcement, but Clark's provincewide tour and focus on job creation comes at a necessary time for B.C. businesses who are still in shock over the defeat of the HST referendum last month.

"Demoralized would be the way I would describe the HST impact and it will continue as long as we have to wait for the conversion date," he said. "But this (jobs plan) is coming on the heels of that and I think that's the right timing."

Falcon has said it will take his ministry up to 18 months to unwind the HST and return to the provincial sales tax, but he's also said it could be sooner.

Helmut Pastrick, chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union, said Clark's financial support for her jobs plan is modest, but she's hitting the right targets, especially with her focus on markets in China, India, Asia and Brazil.

"The initiatives, they are fairly modest in dollar terms — $15 million for the port, $3 million for venture credit — but, certainly, they are elements of a growth strategy that is suitable for B.C.," he said.

Pastrick said he is waiting for Clark to roll out her entire plan to assess its thrust and magnitude.

"The details will matter and that includes how much funding is behind some of these initiatives," he said.

"It's a sign that the government is in the process of doing something, if you will, of initiating some change and trying to deal with a difficult situation."

In Prince Rupert, Clark committed to spending $15 million for a $90 million project to improve rail and road access to the Port of Prince Rupert, which she says has the prime market advantage of being three days closer to the Asian marketplace than any other shipping location in North America.

The projected future $300 million upgrade of Prince Rupert's port facility is estimated to create 4,000 jobs, with 570 people working on the initial rail and road project.

The proposed natural gas pipeline and liquefied natural gas export terminal project for Kitimat is estimated to create up to 1,500 construction jobs and up to 140 permanent jobs at Kitimat.

Clark said her government supports the LNG plant but the project still requires some federal government approvals.

She told Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops that she wants to increase by 50 per cent the number of international students studying in B.C. in the next four years.

She said there are currently 94,000 international students in B.C., creating $1.25 billion in economic activity and 22,000 jobs. Clark said her plan over the next four years will create up to 9,000 new jobs.

She said she will use $21 million of federal labour market development funds to form advisory groups who will join industries, employers and chambers of commerce with local colleges and universities to identify and meet local job needs.

Opposition New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix said he's looking for more solid proposals from Clark's jobs plan Thursday, because all he's heard so far is repeats of announcements made earlier by former premier Gordon Campbell and admissions that the Liberals are not helping enough B.C. students get B.C. jobs.

"if this is her whole plan, then it is, as they say, like a Seinfeld episode about nothing," he said. "I'm hopeful that the premier will address the issues I've raised, which are the real challenges in the training system."