Sea Change


BC Business Magazine - - Best cities for work in B.C. - pho­to­graph by E R IN WAL L IS

For Eric Heel, Camp­bell River looks even bet­ter the sec­ond time around. Af­ter earn­ing a de­gree in civil en­gi­neer­ing from UBC, the Vic­to­ria na­tive took a job in this sea­side city on the east coast of Van­cou­ver Is­land, only to re­turn to Van­cou­ver for other op­por­tu­ni­ties with the same com­pany. But three years ago, find­ing the Lower Main­land too busy and ex­pen­sive, Heel came back to Camp­bell River, where he and his wife now own a home. “I’m pretty happy with that de­ci­sion,” he says.

The board mem­ber of Young Pro­fes­sion­als of Camp­bell River ( YPCR) is far from alone. “In our group, there’s roughly 80 mem­bers,” says Heel, 29, a project engi­neer with Mcel­han­ney Con­sult­ing Ser­vices Ltd. “I would say a solid 20-plus have moved here in the past year or two from the Lower Main­land or Vic­to­ria or Cal­gary.”

On a brisk April af­ter­noon, I’m sit­ting in an airy Camp­bell River cof­fee shop with Heel, fel­low YPCR direc­tor Ali­son Bell and president Lau­rel Sliskovic. This res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hood across the street from the Beaver Lodge For­est Lands, a 1,000-acre wilder­ness pre­serve that feels like the city’s Stan­ley Park, is a short drive south of down­town. If you head east, you’ll soon find your­self on a long, wind-swept beach with un­ob­structed views of Quadra Is­land.

These three young res­i­dents are a vote of con­fi­dence in Camp­bell River, which en­dured some dif­fi­cult years af­ter the shut­ter­ing of the Cat­a­lyst Pa­per Corp. mill in 2010 con­tributed to forestry-re­lated job losses of some 1,500. Van­cou­ver Is­land’s third-largest city has since taken steps to draw new res­i­dents and busi­nesses and grow into a re­gional cen­tre for the north Is­land, while seek­ing to pre­serve its small-town charm.

Bell, now 32, com­mu­ni­ca­tions co­or­di­na­tor with lo­cal Sey­mour Pa­cific De­vel­op­ments Ltd. and Broad­street Prop­er­ties Ltd., is a Camp­bell River na­tive who spent a decade in Vic­to­ria be­fore com­ing home two years ago. (Named Ali­son Davies when we meet, she got mar­ried over the sum­mer.) “There’s so much out­doors stuff to do here as op­posed to liv­ing in a [large] city,” Bell says. “The big rea­son I wanted to move home was for the life­style change.”

Sliskovic, 40, who grew up in On­tario, moved here from Nanaimo in 2013. Co­founder of So­cia­ble Sci­en­tists Inc., a con­sult­ing firm that fo­cuses on leisure and tourism’s role in com­mu­nity devel­op­ment, she also teaches in the tourism pro­gram at North Is­land Col­lege’s Camp­bell River cam­pus. “We were talk­ing the other day about the num­ber of peo­ple who make it work for them­selves here be­cause we all re­ally want to live here,” Sliskovic, says. “It seems sim­ple to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties here be­cause so many peo­ple are in­volved and en­gaged.”

“We were talk­ing the other day about the num­ber of peo­ple who make it work for them­selves here be­cause we all re­ally want to live here. It seems sim­ple to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties here be­cause so many peo­ple are in­volved and en­gaged” – Lau­rel Sliskovic, co-founder, So­cia­ble Sci­en­tists

Mayor Andy Adams re­calls how Camp­bell River bounced back from the mill clo­sure. “We had a lot of young peo­ple leav­ing this com­mu­nity,” the gen­teel Adams says in his of­fice over­look­ing the Strait of Ge­or­gia. The up­side for the re­tired Van­cou­ver Is­land Health Author­ity ad­min­is­tra­tor: “I like to say that we’re the only Cat­a­lyst com­mu­nity that lost a pulp mill but hasn’t de­creased in pop­u­la­tion.” Dur­ing the 12 years that Adams has served on city coun­cil, peo­ple have sug­gested that Camp­bell River con­cen­trate on at­tract­ing se­niors, he says. “But we’ve taken the ap­proach of go­ing for fam­i­lies.”

It seems to be work­ing. Sin­gle-fam­ily home sales grew 34 per cent in 2016, the big­gest gain for any Van­cou­ver Is­land Real Es­tate Board zone. Camp­bell River, where the bench­mark price of a sin­gle­fam­ily dwelling is about $370,000, is­sued a record num­ber of devel­op­ment per­mits that year. It’s the third-fastest-grow­ing city on Van­cou­ver Is­land, says eco­nomic devel­op­ment of­fi­cer Rose Klukas, who held the same post in Kiti­mat un­til 2016. Now home to al­most 33,000 peo­ple, Camp­bell River plans to build out wa­ter, sewer, road and other in­fra­struc­ture over the next 20 to 30 years to ac­com­mo­date 65,000 res­i­dents.

Forestry and min­ing re­main im­por­tant, but Adams also points to the city’s strong man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor. It in­cludes Sealand Avi­a­tion Ltd., which makes parts for Boe­ing Co. and Vik­ing Air Ltd.; and T-mar In­dus­tries Ltd., an ex­porter of steep-slope log­ging equip­ment. Aqua­cul­ture is an­other eco­nomic driver: three ma­jor fish farm com­pa­nies— Cer­maq Canada Ltd., Grieg Seafood BC Ltd. and Ma­rine Har­vest Canada—have head of­fices here. “Peo­ple can walk right into a full-time job, which in Van­cou­ver or Vic­to­ria is a lit­tle tricky,” Adams says.

As part of its ef­fort to lure busi­nesses that might other­wise choose those places, Camp­bell River is the first Van­cou­ver Is­land com­mu­nity with a mu­nic­i­pal broad­band net­work. The City, which is cov­er­ing the cost of con­nect­ing down­town build­ings with broad­band fi­bre, will let whole­sale clients lease ac­cess to the net­work, ex­plains in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy man­ager War­ren Ka­lyn. “We con­sider this a con­sid­er­able ad­van­tage for Camp­bell River,” Ka­lyn says. “If we can drive down the bot­tom-line costs for in­vest­ment in Camp­bell River by help­ing out at least at the broad­band level, we’re one step ahead of a lot of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.”

Over lunch on the picturesque wa­ter­front—one of down­town’s four districts—i meet city man­ager Deb­o­rah Sar­gent and her deputy, Ron Neufeld. Sar­gent moved here in 2015 from Smithers, where she was chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer. “Camp­bell River is rapidly ur­ban­iz­ing, but it has all of those small-town ameni­ties and that small­town friend­li­ness and warmth that you don’t al­ways see in a city as it starts on its jour­ney to ma­ture,” she says.

Sar­gent thinks the City has got its plan­ning right be­cause Camp­bell River isn’t grow­ing too fast, but she wants to make life eas­ier for in­vestors. “You’re not wait­ing here for a re­zon­ing ap­pli­ca­tion or a devel­op­ment per­mit for a year or longer,” she says. “Our turn­arounds for ap­pli­ca­tions are very rea­son­able, and we’re talk­ing a mat­ter of weeks, not months.”

Neufeld, who came to Camp­bell River from Saskatchewan in 1992 to take a job with the City, quickly fell in love with the place. He’s seen big changes since, in­clud­ing con­struc­tion of the lo­cal air­port and the Is­land High­way. “Real es­tate is still such a bar­gain here,” Neufeld says. “It’s a hidden gem on the Is­land.”

As proof that work­ing with de­vel­op­ers can also im­prove qual­ity of life for res­i­dents, he cites Sey­mour Pa­cific De­vel­op­ments’ smart-look­ing head­quar­ters, which founder Kris Mail­man opened in 2014 on a down­town site near city hall pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied by aban­doned build­ings. “We sat down with him and worked through some very cre­ative ways of how we could com­bine pub­lic in­vest­ment in the streetscape with pri­vate in­vest­ment in his own busi­ness in­ter­ests, and com­bine the two and re­ally get the most bang for the buck.”

Af­ter launch­ing Sey­mour Pa­cific in 1983 as a sin­gle-fam­ily-home builder, Mail­man be­gan spe­cial­iz­ing in four-storey, wood-frame res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion. To­day, with Broad­street Prop­er­ties, the com­pany has some 400 em­ploy­ees—roughly 160 of them in Camp­bell River—and man­ages about 10,000 rental units in B.C., Al­berta, Saskatchewan and Man­i­toba. “It puts us at a big com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage be­cause we do every­thing in-house,” says cul­ture and com­mu­nity man­ager Amanda Raleigh, Mail­man’s daugh­ter, in the staff cafe­te­ria. Raleigh, who has since be­come gen­eral man­ager of the Camp­bell River Golf and Coun­try Club, Sey­mour Pa­cific’s first hos­pi­tal­ity ven­ture, says the busi­ness fo­cuses on re­gions out­side the core of ma­jor cities. “We stay away from city cen­tres,” she ex­plains.

The same could be said for sec­ond-time res­i­dent Eric Heel, who be­lieves Camp­bell River is on the right path: “The com­mu­nity’s grow­ing, peo­ple are mov­ing back, so there’s more op­por­tu­ni­ties, and it’s just a good cy­cle.”

SET­TLING IN Eric Heel, Lau­rel Sliskovic and Ali­son Bell all spent time in other parts of B.C. be­fore de­cid­ing on Camp­bell River

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