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Published On: Monday, 01 June 2015

Kelowna - Right Place, Right Time

KELOWNA - As spring races into summer, Kelowna’s economic numbers continue to reflect a sturdiness that makesus all feel optimistic. Our Chamber members are cautiously confident – not all businesses are enjoying growth, but optimism and expectations for good times ahead are a theme we hear repeated several times every week from business members: both those with new businesses, and those who are long established players in our market.

In terms of tracking spending and purchasing, it’s always instructive and often entertaining, to look at what Millennials are doing. Earlier this week, I heard that Millennials not only are entering their peak buying years, but that they are expected to soon surpass Boomers in total population. [NARGenerational Survey, Washington, DC, 2015] Good news for tech, general retail (more than 50% of Millennial households already have children) and real estate.

Millennials are 2.5 times more likely to be “early adopters” of technology than any other generation.[2015 Millennial Marketing]. This means lots more buying and upgrading.
Other interesting news for Kelowna this month included the Employment Insurance stats released May 21st. It’s no secret that Alberta saw a significant increase in EI numbers – in March EI recipients went up 24.7%. Large centres weren’t immune – Calgary’s EI numbers jumped, too.

By comparison, Kelowna shines in this regard: there were slight EI increases in BC outside of the province’s CMAs (census metropolitan areas of 100,000+ population). Again, Kelowna demonstrated immunity.

In fact, Kelowna and Guelph, Ontario have the lowest unemployment rates among ALL Canadian cities,according to Stats Can. Our two cities’ jobless rates are tied at 4.1%. Of course, that means a challenge for companies looking to expand and hire and acquire talent. That can place constraints on in-migrating companies which may look to establish elsewhere.

However, as we look ahead, we see the Central Okanagan Economic Development forecast of apopulation of 250,000 for our Kelowna CMA. The steady growth that COEDC predicts of 1.9% per year ensures that goods, services, real estate and our local industries will continue to expand.

Of BC’s three top industries, lumber, mining and real estate, real estate is a star in the Okanagan. In the central Okanagan (Peachland to Lake Country) residential sales were up 21.5% January-April over 2014.

The estimated spin-off economic impact of those $651 million in sales was an additional $99.5 million (renovations, appliances, taxes, etc.) [Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board]., and let’s not forget the growth in international awareness of the Okanagan as we continue to take a world-leading role in the ‘farm to table’ travel experience. These travel experiences helped the BC-wide tourism industry generate revenues of $13.5 billion in 2012. Awareness is growing by mega leaps every year – dollars are sure to follow as our agri-businesses mature. [Destination BC]

Of course, the volatility of the Canadian dollar continues to concern many of our businesspeople, including those importing, exporting, and paying for travel expenses in the US or paying for any goods and services in US dollars. Pundits and economists continue to prognosticate, but the ride to a mor estable dollar isn’t one that is ending any time soon.

Still, the next two decades in Kelowna and in BC (“We’ll carry the country with our strength,” said a lecturer from Investors Group earlier this month) are going to put smiles on a lot of business people’s faces as expansion continues.

Earlier this week, BC Premier Christy Clark announced an agreement in principle with Pacific NorthWest LNG, owned in majority by Malaysia's Petronas, for a liquefied natural gas development on the province's northwest coast.

Clark said the LNG framework will result in stable, long-term revenue for BC and $36 billion ininvestment, including a proposal for an LNG facility near Prince Rupert, with spin-off employment throughout BC.

So what does all this mean for Kelowna? We are in the right place, at the right time, with the right product. We’re the fastest growing city in BC, ahead of Vancouver, and have great business and socialties to the top cities on the national list in Alberta and Saskatchewan. It’s a good time to be a part of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce.

- Caroline Grover is the CEO of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached by email at caroline@kelownachamber.org.