Mixed message given about Kelowna’s economic prospects

Robert Fine, EDC executive director, and Ron Mattiussi, Kelowna city manager, offer their views on growing the local economy.

A political shift may have been just the push Kelowna’s economy needed to get moving again, key members of the business community indicated Thursday.

“With the change of council, there’s been a change in the attitude of the business community,” said Robert Fine, executive director of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, who was one of the speakers at an economic update luncheon for the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce.

Developers, tourist operators and even long lost Albertan investors are putting out feelers, and while feelers aren’t the same as dollars, just seeing their interest piqued has been encouraging to Fine.

“Inquiries (at the EDC) were dismal in the last quarter,” he said. “But we’ve seen an appreciable increase in the first quarter.”

The economy seemingly flatlined since the crash of 2009, Fine said that economic drivers like UBC Okanagan, Okanagan College, the airport and Interior Health Authority—which collectively bring $2 billion a year to the area—are tools in the arsenal to full recovery and have likely softened the blow to the economy.

Fine also pointed out that recent Statistics Canada reports indicate that all jobs lost at the height of the recession have been replaced in the Central Okanagan.

Complicating matters, however, is that there are more people in the workforce than there were when the downward spiral began, as those who came to the city for retirement purposes suffered hits to their portfolios and started seeking employment once again.

That’s just one way boomers and seniors— who are perpetually drawn to the valley—complicate the economic potential of Kelowna.

City manager Ron Mattiussi, who was less  bullish on economic prospects than Fine, predicted four to five years of turbulence.

And, on top of the near future, he predicted continual affordability challenges in years to come because of the steady housing demands from people headed to the valley in their retirement years.

They have more means, which will inevitably put upward pressure on the housing market.

“Forty-four per cent of Kelowna doesn’t have mortgages, while only 10 per cent of householders are under 35 years old,” he said.

And, as those who head to the area at the beginning of their retirement stage get older, they could create further problems for the city.

“What is the impact on the suburbs?” he asked of the demographic tsunami.

It’s one thing to move into the hills, to get a good view at 65, he said, but what happens when those people turn 75 or 85?

There will also be additional struggles finding workers, and not just the skilled kind.

“Think of the additional costs for labour,” he said, pointing out that municipal costs to find someone who’s game to run a plough through city streets on a snowy morning may skyrocket.

That said, Mattiussi wasn’t all doom and gloom about prospects.

He too said there’s been an uptick in interest with the change in political climate.

“We’re seeing a lot more activity in the last few months,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be at City Hall.”


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