When it comes to economic growth in Kelowna, this year should be better than last year but not as good as next year, says city manager Ron Mattiussi.
Mattiussi, speaking at the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting Thursday, said his marching orders from council are to grow the economy, enhance the quality of life for residents, focus on results, deliver on city plans and provide proactive and pragmatic leadership.
And, he said, he believes that’s what he and other city staff are doing.
Mattiussi said city moves like adding more police, creating a business liaison officer at City Hall, investing in groups that “enhance our community” and developing rules and processes that not only help the community grow but also keep it orderly are all part of the overall move to stimulate and grow the city’s economy in these tough economic times.
“This year, we expect to see strong, stable growth,” said Mattiussi, who normally leaves the job of delivering state of the city speeches to Mayor Walter Gray.
But, during his turn at the podium, Mattiussi also outlined some of the city’s past successes, just as Gray did a few weeks ago before the same audience in his annual State Of The City address.
The city manager also touched on upcoming projects such as the planned new Interior Health building downtown, the Bernard Avenue revitalization project, improvements to transit, upgrades to city recreation facilities and expansions of parks.
All that work is part a $47-million capital spending plan the city has for this year.
Mattiussi also got a few digs in at a recent Vancouver Province newspaper article that said residents here are worried about an escalation in violent organized crime.
“Uninformed opinions never make for good public policy,” said Mattiussi. “We use research.”
He said that despite the claims of a UBCO professor in the article who said people here are growing more afraid of violent crime, the city conducts regular polling by the firm Ipsos-Reid and respondents say they are no more worried here than residents of other B.C. cities.
Also speaking at the meeting were Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission business development officer Corie Griffiths and chamber member David Bond.
Griffiths, whose job includes business development for the entire Central Okanagan, said this area has been ahead of the curve in trying to attract skilled foreign workers, a possible solution to the growing need for skilled workers across the province.
She said some reports have indicated there may be as many as one million jobs that will need skilled workers between now and 2020 in B.C. and many of those jobs could be filled by people trained here.
Having both UBCO and Okanagan College in the community is a great benefit, she said, as both institutions will help in the training of workers. The key, however, will be the retention of young skilled workers in this area.
Griffiths said studies show that 80 per cent of job creation comes from the retention and expansion of existing local business.
While the aging demographic remains a concern, Kelowna continues to be one of the fastest growing urban areas in Canada with a sharp increase seen in the birthrate here in the last 20 years.
But it remains still one of the oldest communities in B.C. as an estimated 19 per cent of its population are seniors. That percentage is higher than both the provincial and national averages, said Griffiths.