December 2019 - January 2020 Best Cities for Work in B.C.

With a mission to inform, empower, celebrate and advocate for British Columbia's current and aspiring business leaders, BCBusiness go behind the headlines and bring readers face to face with the key issues and people driving business in B.C.

Issue link: http://digital.canadawide.com/i/1184822

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Page 38 of 71

FROM TOP: ISTOCK; DESTINATION BC/KARI MEDIG DECEMBER/JANUARY 2020 BCBUSINESS 39 urban development in the suburbs—condo towers in Surrey and denser and denser multi-family low-rise developments on, you know, the other side of White Rock." By fleeing to the suburbs while holding onto their jobs in the pricier central cities, workers are straining transportation net- works with longer commutes and growing congestion. "As more and more people want to be here pursuing the job opportunities and the economic growth opportunities, we're going to have, increasingly, infra- structure challenges," Ivanova reckons. "It's a challenge that we don't have very good transit to some of the outlying com- munities. Workers want to be close to transit—they don't want to commute long hours. That makes it hard for recruitment and hard for businesses to locate." The solution? "We're going to have to deal with congestion better," Ivanova says, citing a bevy of upcoming improvement projects, including highway upgrades, the Pattullo Bridge replacement, the Broadway Corridor SkyTrain extension and more rapid transit in Surrey, as signs of progress. "We're slowly working on it." While swapping more-affordable hous- ing for longer commute times has been a reasonable trade-off for some, it doesn't work for everyone. "It is very expensive in Metro Vancouver. It has become out of reach for many," Ivanova observes. An alternative solution has been to escape the unaffordability and long commutes of the Lower Mainland altogether by looking for opportunities farther afield. "We are seeing, anecdotally, that families are moving out of Metro Vancou- ver," Ivanova says. "Some other regions are benefiting because they're getting young families coming in, starting busi- nesses, perhaps, or increasing the pool of labour there." A TA L E O F T W O C I T I E S When it comes to affordability, Metro Vancouver's loss has been other regions' gain, Hall acknowledges. "There are spill- over effects. Are they going to show up in big regional economic numbers? Maybe not, but they're important to those places," he suggests. "Nanaimo is a good case there. It had been a depressed place; it's no longer." UBC's Somerville has seen a similar trend: "It's very striking: whether you go to Kelowna, you go to Victoria, the feel of those places is a lot less sleepy than, say, 15 years ago," he says. "This may be tied to millennials moving elsewhere and looking for more opportunities, looking for more- affordable places." The experts are quick to admit that clear-cut data to support these observa- tions are hard to come by—at least until the 2021 census. Still, indirect evidence, such as rising housing costs and more develop- ment activity in the province's secondary centres, suggests that considerable intra- provincial migration is under way. How- ever, the province's housing market is only one of the disparate forces shaping the for- tunes of B.C.'s cities in recent years. "It's kind of like a tale of two cities," Somerville says. "There are cities in the province where people are moving to and things have grown and there's a feeling of rebirth and reinvigoration, and then there are cities that have really been hit negatively on the resource side that are struggling a lot more—really in timber and wood prod- ucts. Cities and towns that are dependent on those industries continue to struggle." Unsurprisingly, perhaps, in the Cariboo, where 22 percent of the workforce has ties to for- estry, the economy has begun showing signs of distress. The region's larg- est communities—Prince George, Quesnel and Williams Lake—fell 50 collective spots to rank among the lowest on this year's list. Although they offer affordable hous- ing and convenient commute times, their depressed income growth, population growth and unemployment rates are cause for concern. The challenge and opportunity for these centres may be to reinvent themselves at a time when they can take advantage of the disparity between their affordable housing costs and those of larger provin- cial centres. Other regions have begun to capitalize on this dynamic as they try to diversify their economies away from resource-dependent industries, the CCPA's Ivanova says. "We're seeing some bursts of tech and other entre- preneurial activity in the Kootenays," she reports. "It used to be the case in many communities outside of Metro Vancou- ver that young people went away to go to school and never came back, because they needed to work and stayed in the big city. Now we're starting to see that some of the families are moving back, and that's a ben- efit for those other regions out of the unaf- fordable housing in Vancouver." ■ TOUGH SPOTS Communities large and small, from Vancouver (above) to Cranbrook, find themselves in the bottom half of our ranking again

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