So far on the civic election trail in Kelowna, the issue of business development has been front and centre.
While it is still unclear what a pro-business council will or can specifically do to create jobs, or what has been missed along that vein by the previous council, the only thing you can possibly grasp onto is the need to build more condos.
As one voter out there who called me last week said, why is there no mention from the pro-business candidates about what we do have—a large government services workforce and the evolution of UBC Okanagan, which along with Okanagan College, is in turn evolving Kelowna into becoming a university town. This caller said tourism and assembly line type jobs are typically low-paying, but people who work at Kelowna General Hospital or the UBCO campus, all make a good income that helps pump up our economy,
Why don’t any of the candidates acknowledge that, or understand that is where our future is headed, she said to me. Many candidates have been talking about the failure of the CD-21 zone to pass, something mayoral candidate Walter Gray beat up on at the start of the campaign as a criticism of the current mayor and council but now seems to be backing away from. The condo development gold mine has left Kelowna for the time being. .
During the real estate boom here in the middle of the past decade, we all had a chance to cash in, to feed out of the home buying trough as it were, spending money we did nothing to earn except to be fortunate enough to own a house that increased 100 per cent in value. Hardly a recipe for sustainable growth, but we were all blinded by the vision of easy money.
The first day I arrived in Kelowna in 2000, a young guy who was part of my moving crew told me he needed to get out of Kelowna because there was nothing for him here. I heard a parent say the same thing about his kid recently. So in those 11 years, nothing has really changed despite the real estate bonanza that went on here.
Why? Because real estate development should be a by-product of a booming economy, not the central source. Those of you who bought a house in a high-end market and seen the price drop dramatically since are learning that lesson the hard way.
What we lacked in 2000 we continue to lack today—outside of the local sawmills, where else can someone with a basic education work in an industrial-based job and make over $25 an hour? The message we send to our young people today is this: Go elsewhere and when you’ve created your own financial wealth, come back home and bring your wealth with you.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Entrepreneurs can flourish in this community, something our own columnist Joel Young and his group are aggressively trying to develop further.
But let us stop painting Kelowna’s economic future around the development of real estate, downtown or anywhere else. We need to be thinking far more outside the box than that.
Barry Gerding is the managing editor of the Kelowna Capital News.