Long a destination for adventure pursuits, the livable seaside city is branching out into recreational technology, wood manufacturing and clean energy
Anyone who’s scaled Stawamus Chief Mountain on a clear day knows how good Squamish residents have it. The view from atop this 700-metre granite monolith takes in the turquoise waters of Howe Sound, with the city spread out along its north shore and snow-capped Mount Garibaldi looming in the distance.
For young families fleeing Vancouver’s lofty property prices, Squamish combines closeness to the big city with relatively affordable real estate, urban amenities and an outdoor-oriented lifestyle. Now sporting the slogan Hardwired for Adventure, it has gained widespread recognition for pursuits ranging from kitesurfing and mountain biking to rock climbing and backcountry skiing. Squamish also lies between Vancouver and Whistler, on a highway that sees roughly 10 million annual trips. All of that traffic has helped make it a destination for visitors from across the globe.
But tourism is only part of the picture for Squamish, which took first place for 2017 in our annual Best Cities for Work in B.C. ranking. Recreational technology, including products like technical apparel, bicycle components and performance snowboards, is one growing sector. Forestry, the backbone of the economy before mill closures last decade, has given way to innovation in wood manufacturing. For example, Westcoast Outbuildings Inc., a maker of modular homes and other structures, recently moved here from North Vancouver. Manufacturers and home builders can take advantage of Squamish’s deepwater port, good rail access and strong trades workforce.
Education is another key economic driver, and the city sees an opportunity to grow its clean energy sector. Quest University Canada, a growing private institution, calls Squamish home. Meanwhile, the District of Squamish, the Squamish First Nation and Newport Beach Developments LP hope to add a post-secondary component to the 100-acre oceanfront community that Newport Beach is building to accommodate 6,500 new residents. The three have signed a memorandum of understanding with Carbon Engineering—a local startup seeking to turn captured carbon dioxide into fuel—and UBC, which wants to establish a cleantech campus on the oceanfront lands offering undergraduate and graduate programming.
The city’s annual events include the Wind Festival of the Arts and the Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival. The Squamish Arts Council, which puts on the Wind Festival, represents some 35 arts, culture and heritage groups.
Looking to the future, Squamish recently unveiled its 2040 community plan, the result of two years of consultation and engagement with residents, including the Squamish Nation. Among the plan’s goals: ensuring that the city remains a livable place with a small-town feel. That means redesigning streets to encourage people to walk and cycle—and preserving the charming downtown core, with its mix of independent retailers, restaurants, pubs and bars.
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 47.9%, 36.6%, 15.5%
University grads: 22.9%
Average household income: $110,838
Average household income under 45: $109,142
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 18.7%
Five-year population growth: 8.3%
Benchmark detached home price: $993,600
Benchmark condominium price: $488,100
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $1,161
Average annual household spending on shelter: $26,572
Key industries: Construction; real estate; professional, scientific and technical services; hospitality and tourism; retail; education; health care and social services; forestry; wood products manufacturing; clean technology
Notable employers: 7Mesh Inc.; British Columbia Timberframe Co.; Carbon Engineering; Diamond Head Development; District of Squamish; Echoflex Solutions Inc.; Home Depot of Canada Inc.; Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Co.; Knwn Manufacturing Inc.; Nesters Market Ltd.; Newport Beach Developments LP; OneUp Components; Quest University Canada; Save-On-Foods; School District 48; Sea to Sky Community Services; Sea to Sky Gondola; Squamish Mills Ltd.; Squamish Terminals Ltd.; Vancouver Coastal Health; Walmart Canada Corp.; Westcoast Outbuildings Inc.
Regional unemployment: 4% (February)
Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $98,517,000
Change from 2016: –0.7%
Cost of a business licence: $1-$2,000
Average processing time for a building permit: 6-8 weeks (residential); 12-16 weeks (commercial or mixed-use)
Business property tax rate: $9.51 per $1,000 of assessed value
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: $12-$14
Average retail lease rate: $12-$14
QUALITY OF LIFE
Major post-secondary institutions: Quest University Canada
Major recreational amenities: Brennan Park Recreation Centre (skating rink and aquatic centre); 55 Activity Centre; Squamish Arts Council; community garden plots; community park and trail network; six provincial parks nearby; mountain biking; kitesurfing; windsurfing; backcountry skiing; mountaineering; climbing; hiking; camping; swimming; fishing; boating
Key annual events: Squamish Beer Festival; Squamish Wind Festival for the Arts; Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival; Squamish Children’s Festival
Average annual household spending on recreation: $5,837
Residents who walk or bike to work: 5.4%