As West Kelowna looks to bolster its economic presence in concert with the region, housing issues and the suitability of the community for the young are both coming under discussion.
Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission chair Robert Fine brought the regional strategy to West Kelowna council on Feb. 8.
The commission’s aims for 2011 range from creating more value in the agriculture sector to bolstering foreign direct investment.
Several measures attempt to draw skilled workers to the Okanagan, and attract young professionals and families.
Coun. Gord Milsom noted the commission is supportive of West Kelowna businesses.
He pointed to Quails’ Gate Winery using commission services to be represented at Destination Canada job fairs overseas in Paris, Brussels and Tunisia this past November.
Fine noted the work was done in partnership with the Canadian government, aimed first and foremost at attracting young people.
He said the commission hopes to attract potential workers on working holiday visas, and hope that they can stay.
Fine said there are 35 job placements in the works at the moment, from sous chefs to inventory control managers.
He added the move is attracting mostly skilled and semi-skilled workers. Quails’ Gate was the largest company participating.
Coun. David Knowles said he was concerned about the “demographic winter” being faced by the area.
He said there is a high proportion of over-55-year-olds in West Kelowna, with a lack of young people coming along.
He added that housing costs in the area are also concerningly high.
Knowles pointed out council’s secondary suite policy allows younger families to buy a home with a secondary suite.
Suites provide supplementary income and can be what makes a home purchase possible for young families.
“I can’t find anything else that we can really do as a council.”
Fine said part of the solution involves greater choice in the selection of housing being built, with a move away from strictly single-family housing.
He recognized that having secondary suites in homes is positive.
But Fine pointed out housing is not the greatest issue young professionals face when evaluating the Central Okanagan as a place to live and work.
“It’s lack of connection, and lack of feeling that they’re welcome.”
Fine noted activities for newcomers are also part of what would make the area more attractive to young professionals.
He added part of the draw comes down to quality of place, and that people are looking for unique opportunities where they live and spend time. Fine noted the challenges around the development of Westbank town centre are also an opportunity to look at what could be.
Coun. Rosalind Neis pointed out Westbank First Nation does not contribute financially to the commission.
She noted the band has their own economic development officer in place to take care of the needs of the band and people that live in the WFN governing area.
“We as a community contributed $148,000 this year to your organization.”
Neis added that West Kelowna also hired their own economic development officer recently.
She asked how district citizens are getting value for their money from the commission when citizens who don’t contribute at all get the benefits as well.
Fine said the commission covers the region as a whole.
“This is a small enough economic unit as a region, we really are one.”
He pointed out two-thirds of West Kelowna taxpayers work in Kelowna and other communities.
“If we don’t have a strong region, they won’t be able to keep their jobs and pay in.”
Fine said the commission was able to bring in additional funding, a support that they receive because they are tackling the entire region as a whole.
He noted taxpayers from the city of Kelowna foot $17,000 of the bill for the regional strategic plan.
He added the commission has WFN economic development officer Jayne Fosbery on their board, and does try to work with the band as well.