Can a city act as a hub for both retirement and recreation? Vernon’s healthy economy and outdoorsy lifestyle attract all ages
Vernon is about halfway between Vancouver and Calgary, which makes sense, given that the Prairie influence is evident in these parts. With more than 10 other communities in its orbit, the city is something of a trading hub for the central and northern Okanagan Valley. Towns like Armstrong and Cherryville depend on Vernon daily, while larger centres such as Salmon Arm rely on it for specialty products.
Like many of its neighbours, Vernon has a rich history as an agricultural producer, and though that’s still very much part of its identity, other industries ranging from construction to tourism also help drive the economy. The biggest employers include homegrown companies like Kal Tire Ltd., Canada’s largest independent tire dealer, and Tolko Industries Ltd., a specialty forest products manufacturer. Still, some 90 percent of local businesses have 20 or fewer staff, giving Vernon an entrepreneurial feel. Ever wanted to be on friendly terms with your butcher, baker and barber? This is the place.
And when people move here, they tend to stay. About 24 percent of residents are 65 or older, versus roughly 18 percent for the province as a whole. Vernon saw a 34-percent uptick in seniors from 2011 to 2016, thanks to the natural aging process and its growing cachet as a retirement destination. Old or young, residents get outside to enjoy the region’s terrific weather. After all, this is a city in which the most impressive building is a massive, awesomely named resort community called Predator Ridge.
That 700-home monolith aside, Vernon is as down-to-earth as you’ll find, and its community members are civic-minded. For example, the city makes homes for low-income residents a priority—hence the creation and success of the Vernon Native Housing Society, which raises funds to shelter the underprivileged.
There’s also been an abundance of for-profit construction activity in the past few years, as Vernon has seen the amount and value of its building permits shoot up. Projects like the Hamlets assisted living facility and a regional office for BC Hydro and Power Authority have created hundreds of jobs during and after construction.
Since 1965 Vernon has been home to one of Okanagan College’s four major campuses and has served thousands of students who can pursue higher education, whether degrees, diplomas or certificates. A new trades training centre at the campus is expected to open in August 2018, further deepening the economic and social impact the college has on the community.
If you’re planning to visit, you’ll be hard pressed to find the right month, as each page of the calendar seemingly has a citywide event attached to it. And if you’re jonesing for an old-fashioned taste of the outdoors, there something called the BC Open Gold Panning Championship, and it takes place in Vernon this May.
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 26.1%, 40%, 33.9%
University grads: 19.1%
Average household income: $92,153
Average household income under 45: $83,829
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 19.4%
Five-year population growth: 5.1%
Average detached home price: $471,408
Average condominium price: $314,763
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $913
Average annual household spending on shelter: $22,314
Key industries: Manufacturing; construction; forestry; tourism
Notable employers: Tolko Industries Ltd.; Kal Tire Ltd.; BC Hydro; Predator Ridge Resort; Okanagan Spring Brewery Ltd.
Regional unemployment: 7.5% (February)
Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $130,100,000
Change from 2016: 3.2%
Cost of a business licence: $115-$800
Average processing time for a building permit: 4.5 weeks
Business property tax rate: $10.32 per $1,000 of assessed value
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: $12
Average retail lease rate: $15
QUALITY OF LIFE
Major post-secondary institutions: Okanagan College
Major recreational amenities: Seven parks; five golf courses; aquatic centre; skating rink; curling rink
Key annual events: Vernon Winter Carnival; Interior Provincial Exhibition; Lumby Wild Salmon Festival; Festival of Crafts
Average annual household spending on recreation: $5,129
Residents who walk or bike to work: 3.9%