BC Land Summit

Jamie Vann Struth delivered a presentation on May 16 at the BC Land Summit, focusing on municipal financial sustainability and how to link financial analysis to a municipality’s high-level planning documents and regular development approvals.

The overall message is that municipalities have not been fully appreciating, or understanding, the long-term financial implications of their planning and development decisions.

The Lure of Alberta to BC Youth

According to the recent National Household Survey, there were about 78,000 British Columbia residents in 2011 who had been living in Alberta 5 years earlier. There were about 57,000 Alberta residents who were living in BC in 2006. On a net basis, migration between the two provinces was +21,000 for BC over the 5-year period.

The chart below shows that BC gained people in almost every age group, except teenagers and young adults in the 15-24 age range (as of 2011). A reasonable explanation is that young BC residents are attracted to the high wages and job opportunities in Alberta (average weekly wages are 20% higher in Alberta than BC). Most of the migrants in their late teens and early 20s are unlikely to have completed post-secondary education, but even retail and food service workers in Fort McMurray are paid substantially more than similar positions in BC.

Digging a little deeper into the data shows that the total number of migrants from BC to Alberta actually peaks in the 25-29 age range. But on a net basis, there are even more Alberta residents in their late-20s moving to BC, at least some of whom are likely BC natives who moved to Alberta in their early 20s and then moved back home.

Alberta appears most attractive to BC residents in their younger adult years from age 20 to 35 and then declines for every older age group. On the other hand, Alberta residents also move to BC in larger numbers in their 20s and 30s, but the rate of migration is sustained at a much higher level through the 40s, 50s and even into the 60s. The obvious explanation is that Alberta has the jobs and the economic opportunity that attracts young adults just starting out in their working life, but BC has the quality of life that becomes more appealing as people age into their pre-retirement and retirement years.

Then again, while the general demographic patterns discussed above are likely to remain consistent over time, BC’s net gain in population from Alberta is not necessarily the norm. in fact, the five-year period between the 2006 Census and 2011 Census just happens to coincide with the high-water mark for BC’s interprovincial migration from Alberta over the last 15 years. For six consecutive years from 1997 to 2002 BC had a net outflow of between 6,000 and 18,000 people per year to Alberta.  The net outflow returned in 2011 and 2012 and it will be interesting to see how things change in 2013 once final year-end data is released.

Note: “Migration” is not quite the correct term for the number of people moving between provinces over the 2006 to 2011 period. It doesn’t include those who moved and then passed away, as well as those who may have moved once and then moved again, either back to their original location or to an entirely different province or country, within the 5-year period. For purposes of this analysis, the term works just fine.

Competitive Assessment of Oceanside Economy

Earlier this year I completed a comprehensive economic analysis of the Oceanside region of Vancouver Island. Located on the east coast of the Island and including the communities of Parksville and Qualicum Beach, the Oceanside region is most widely known as a retirement destination. It usually competes with the south Okanagan for the region with the oldest median population in BC. (The chart below compares it to a standard benchmark group of 9 similar-sized BC markets).

But the Oceanside region also has a well-educated population, an excellent school system, top-notch fibre-optic connections, lots of affordable office space and pretty easy transportation connections to the mainland and beyond through Nanaimo to the south (ferries and airport) and the Comox Valley to the north (direct flights as far as Calgary). Data from the last Census in 2006 also showed that while new residents in the area were most likely to be in their 50s and 60s, there were also lots of new residents in their 30s and 40s. (Migration data from the 2011 Census will finally, finally, be released on June 26).

Oceanside is like many BC communities in that future economic development is tied more to the creativity and energy of its residents, who will create economic opportunity across a range of industries, rather than to a specific major industry (as was the case in the early days of many BC communities that were founded around sawmills, mines or fishing harbours).  I’ve also recently been working in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island and the Elk Valley in southeast corner of BC and the analysis and discussion of opportunities has many of the same themes. These are amazing places to live and a certain segment of the population is more than willing to trade some of the conveniences of urban life for the lifestyle advantages of these regions, while sacrificing little or nothing of the professional opportunities. Meeting with the Young Professionals Comox Valley group, it was obvious that in addition to being a very impressive group of individuals, working in a smaller community gave some of them opportunities to advance and fill leadership positions at a younger age than would be possible in a larger urban centre, no doubt to the benefit of their professional development.

The Central Okanagan (another region with an advanced age profile) has recognized the importance of this younger professional and skilled worker demographic and has supported the development of the Okanagan Young Professionals Collective. Tech-oriented professionals in the Comox Valley, most of whom are under 40, often work as consultants or as tele-commuters for major companies through North America. They also have a strong and growing network called the Comox Valley Web Posse.

The Oceanside region has work to do to catch up to the Central Okanagan and the Comox Valley in terms of the amenities and support services for younger professionals, entrepreneurs and skilled workers, but many of the necessary building blocks are in place. Some background on the project and a link to the report can be found through the Parksville & District Chamber of Commerce.