If the Central Okanagan’s leading minds have anything to do with it, Kelowna won’t be caught by the cold chill of a demographic winter with its pants down.
The Economic Development Commission’s public face, executive director Robert Fine, told council Monday that plans are in the works to stave off what’s been identified as the biggest threat to the Valley’s future economic stability.
“We’re putting a lot of focus on making the Central Okanagan more friendly to youth,” Fine told city councillors Monday.
“(Commission employee) Michael Blonde will be trying to better engage the young community and the community at large by looking at young professionals’ culture.”
For years, Fine has been the harbinger of a frosty future attributed to the fact Kelowna’s population is the oldest in Canada, has the lowest fertility rate and is the furthest thing from being ethnically diverse—the latter being key to developing an ample, new working age population.
A Statistics Canada report that came out last March reinforced his annual message, by projecting that Kelowna would lose step with the rest of the country in coming years, in its inability to draw young, immigrant populations needed to buoy up the economy.
Comparing 2006 to 2031, the statistical agency predicted that the number of foreign-born locals will drop from 15 per cent to 14 per cent.
The number of visible minorities will rise modestly, from 2006’s five per cent to 10 per cent in 2031. The rest of the country is projected to see the balance of visible minorities rise into majority levels.
While projections have yet to bode well for the valley, Blonde said that future is not set in stone. “Working with and understanding the barriers and opportunities for us to engage with young professionals, allows us to know what steps we can take to be proactive around the issue,” Blonde said, noting the commission has been in talks with various community groups and businesses for a couple of months.
So far, they’ve identified four core objectives that would allow this region to ride into a future where there are young people readily available to fill the jobs needed to keep an economy afloat.
Among those are increasing community engagement, facilitating professional development, fostering a young professional culture and improving the image of both Kelowna and the Central Okanagan.
“Part of what we’re hearing from young professionals and this target market is…what’s available doesn’t speak to what the young working professional culture is looking for.”
While it might seem odd for a government organization to act as a collating agency for a community of young professionals, Blonde said that it’s not uncommon. More importantly, however, it could be the key to luring young people to the area, and keeping them here.
“When you’re starting a career or business, it’s about having a good supporting network,” he said.
Along with building the network, a communication hub will be constructed. From there, marketing will be rolled out to let those in the city from ages 20 to 35 know what makes the valley worth staying in.
“There are a lot of great people in the region to work with,” said Blonde, who was educated in Kelowna and left for career opportunities.
“I left Kelowna to work in Toronto for a year, until I was given the opportunity to work in the region. Now I’m in a job that is both demanding and provides the opportunity to work with great people.”