Castle­gar Poised for Growth

The West Koote­nay city has long been a great place to live. More and more peo­ple are re­al­iz­ing the a busi­ness po­ten­tial too

BC Business Magazine - - Castlegar -

Hav­ing been born and raised in Castle­gar, Tammy Ve­ri­gin-burk re­turned to the place she calls home after study­ing and work­ing in the Lower Main­land and other parts of B.C. for many years. Go­ing back to the south­ern In­te­rior city that sits smack dab be­tween Van­cou­ver and Cal­gary wasn’t a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion for the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Castle­gar Cham­ber of Com­merce.

“I’m at the cen­tre of ev­ery­thing,” says Ve­ri­gin-burk. “Ev­ery­thing I could pos­si­bly need is here, and we’re on the con­flu­ence of the Columbia and Koote­nay Rivers, sur­rounded by moun­tains, ski­ing and golf.

“You can af­ford to live here, to raise your fam­ily here,” she adds. “You don’t have to take on two or three jobs to pay your mort­gage. You can en­joy your life.”

While af­ford­abil­ity, nat­u­ral beauty and out­door recre­ation (boat­ing, fish­ing, hik­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, pad­dle­board­ing and more) are some of the draws for peo­ple seek­ing qual­ity of life to this city of 14,000, so are busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in Castle­gar is tak­ing off.

Si­t­u­ated 615 kilo­me­tres from both Van­cou­ver and Cal­gary and a 30-minute drive to the U.S. border, Castle­gar is the West Koote­nay’s com­mer­cial hub for 69,000 peo­ple liv­ing in the Columbia and Koote­nay River val­leys. It’s also home to the West Koote­nay Re­gional Air­port, which has more than 74,000 an­nual visi­tors (and daily flights to Cal­gary and Van­cou­ver).

Forestry, hy­dro power gen­er­a­tion, min­ing, trans­porta­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, tourism and ed­u­ca­tion are the re­gion’s key eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment driv­ers, but Castle­gar’s busi­ness com­mu­nity is primed for di­ver­sity and growth.

The Castle­gar Cham­ber of Com­merce, which has been rec­og­nized as 2018’s best cham­ber in B.C. by the BC Cham­ber of Com­merce, has es­tab­lished Des­ti­na­tion Castle­gar, max­i­miz­ing on its tremen­dous draws for visi­tors. There are pro­vin­cial parks, nat­u­ral swim­ming ponds, fes­ti­vals and farm-to-ta­ble din­ing. With a col­lec­tion of dozens of pieces of pub­lic art, Castle­gar is the sculp­ture cap­i­tal of Canada.

The cham­ber also es­tab­lished the Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment of­fice, bol­ster­ing

its po­si­tion as a bur­geon­ing, dy­namic place to do busi­ness. Through govern­ment pro­grams and in­no­va­tive busi­ness part­ner­ships, it is work­ing proac­tively to sup­port lo­cal ven­tures and stim­u­late con­tin­ued eco­nomic growth.

The past year or so has seen a dra­matic shift in Castle­gar’s re­tail land­scape, for ex­am­ple, with more than a dozen new busi­nesses tak­ing root in the city cen­tre.

“Eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is in full tilt,” Ve­ri­gin-burk says. “We worked with mem­bers and res­i­dents and had all these peo­ple gen­er­ate ideas of what’s needed, what would drive peo­ple to go down­town, and how we can make it more vi­brant. From Septem­ber 2016 to June of this year, we had 17 of 26 empty store­fronts and com­mer­cial lots filled. Since then, it’s only been grow­ing and we only have a cou­ple of spa­ces left.

“Some say re­tail is dead, but if you live in a small town re­tail is never dead,” she adds. “With mixed busi­nesses to­gether and the right busi­nesses that make sense to your town, those busi­nesses thrive.”

Growth is also hap­pen­ing in the form of or­chards and hobby farms, out­door-recre­ation en­ter­prises, and in­de­pen­dent, en­tre­pre­neur­ial, home-based busi­nesses, which ben­e­fit from the re­gion’s fi­bre-op­tic broad­band con­nec­tions. Cre­ative con­tent pro­duc­ers—those in­volved in art, dig­i­tal me­dia, writ­ing and graphic de­sign—feel at home here.

Bol­ster­ing the bur­geon­ing small-busi­ness scene are ma­jor eco­nomic driv­ers, such as Selkirk Col­lege. It’s one of the area’s largest em­ploy­ers, and its ex­pand­ing en­rol­ment adds more than $40 mil­lion an­nu­ally to the lo­cal econ­omy. It has an in­ter­na­tional pro­gram and one of the coun­try’s top in­ter­col­le­giate hockey teams. “There’s an in­ter­est­ing ripple ef­fect: we have young peo­ple come here to at­tend school, and their par­ents end up in­vest­ing in this com­mu­nity, buy­ing com­mer­cial prop­erty or their own homes,” Ve­ri­gin-burk says.

Castle­gar’s pop­u­la­tion is made up largely of peo­ple aged 20 to 64 (61%). Twenty-one per­cent of res­i­dents are 19 and un­der, while 18 per­cent are aged 65 and up. In 2017, the me­dian home price was $295,000, 72 per­cent lower than in Greater Van­cou­ver. The me­dian an­nual house­hold in­come was $68,800 in 2016, higher than many mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the Lower Main­land.

Tourism is an­other driver: Castle­gar has four nearby ski re­sorts, in­clud­ing Red Moun­tain and White­wa­ter, all less than an hour away. Mu­nic­i­pal, re­gional, and pro­vin­cial govern­ment agen­cies all have op­er­a­tions in the area. Then there’s forestry: Mercer Cel­gar, In­ter­for and Kalesnikoff are some of the largest pri­vate­sec­tor em­ploy­ers in the area. Proac­tively ex­pand­ing their mar­kets, they now have sig­nif­i­cant rev­enues com­ing from Asia.

With so much hap­pen­ing comes a chal­lenge com­mon to so many B.C. com­mu­ni­ties: hous­ing. Whether it’s af­ford­able hous­ing for the city’s stu­dent pop­u­la­tion or con­dos or homes for high-in­come earn­ers, Castle­gar is ripe for new hous­ing de­vel­op­ment, with many op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to build.

Other types of ven­tures that would thrive here in­clude pro­fes­sional or con­sult­ing ser­vices, a small depart­ment store (or a place to buy kids’ cloth­ing), and a craft brew­ery. Lease rates for com­mer­cial prop­erty run any­where from $7 to $18 per square foot—un­heard of in ur­ban B.C.

Chris Bar­low, chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer for the City of Castle­gar, de­scribes its eco­nomic fu­ture as “ex­tremely bright.”

“Right now Castle­gar of­fers an at­trac­tive en­try point for re­lo­cat­ing or start­ing a busi­ness in the area,” Bar­low says. “Land costs, af­ford­able liv­ing costs, and a con­tin­u­ing in­flux of trained, highly skilled work­ers chas­ing qual­ity of life and want­ing to live in the recre­ation heart of Bri­tish Columbia gives Castle­gar a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage over many other ser­vice cen­tres.

“We are see­ing eco­nomic in­ter­ests mov­ing in from both the west and east,” he says. “It’s the ideal lo­ca­tion to es­tab­lish your head­quar­ters whether you’re plan­ning on ser­vic­ing the West Koote­nays or the world.”

For more in­for­ma­tion, please visit Castle­gar and District Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment at caded.ca/.

The sculp­ture cap­i­tal of Canada

Castle­gar is just a halfhour from the U.S.

Com­mer­cial hub for the West Koote­nay

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