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.