BCBusiness in partnership with BCEDA
The boom may be over, but the immigrants, multinational companies and health investments keep coming
With three-fifths of British Columbia’s population and an even greater share of provincial economic output, the Lower Mainland is typically the first place companies and individuals look when they consider a move to Canada’s westernmost province. And for most of the past decade, the region has been the undisputed driver of the provincial economy. Growth in technology, tourism, construction and film and television production stoked demand for housing and contributed to a seemingly unstoppable appreciation in home prices.
In 2018, the housing market slowed as a result of policy moves by all three levels of government, combined with higher interest rates and a global cooling of high-end real estate. But make no mistake, the economic momentum keeps rolling.
“Lower Mainland–Southwest employment growth has averaged nearly four percent annually over the past two years, surpassing nearly all major metro areas of the country,” Central 1 Credit Union economists wrote in a November 2018 outlook.
As in the rest of Canada, international immigration levels are at or near an all-time high, and the Lower Mainland receives a high share of foreign arrivals to B.C. That will drive continued population growth of about 40,000 people annually for the next several years, Central 1 predicts.
For employers requiring specialized skills, the Lower Mainland offers the best-educated labour pool in the province. “In 2017, 73.8 percent of Southwest B.C.’s labour force between the ages of 25 and 54 boasted at least a post-secondary certificate or diploma,” noted the Chartered Professional Accountants of B.C. in their Regional Check-Up 2018.
That in part explains why Amazon continues to expand its local footprint with a new software development centre in downtown Vancouver (the old post office redevelopment) and a fulfilment centre in Delta, which is expected to more than double the company’s workforce in the region to about 5,000.
“Amazon is excited to create 3,000 more highly skilled jobs in Vancouver," Alexandre Gagnon, vice-president of Amazon Canada and Mexico, said at a 2018 event announcing the investment. “Vancouver is home to an incredibly talented and diverse workforce, and these thousands of new employees will invent on behalf of our customers worldwide.”
GLOBAL TRANSPORT HUB
The Lower Mainland is home to Canada’s busiest port, handling roughly half the country’s overseas trade. It also hosts the country’s second-busiest airport; Vancouver International surpassed the 25-million-passenger mark for the first time in 2018, two years ahead of projections. The region has also seen significant investments in transportation infrastructure over the past decade (new Port Mann Bridge, South Fraser Perimeter Road, Evergreen Line SkyTrain), with several more on tap. The George Massey Tunnel is due for replacement at a projected cost of $3.5 billion, as is the Pattullo Bridge ($1.4 billion). SkyTrain is being extended underground along Broadway in Vancouver to Arbutus Street by 2025 and the University of B.C. by 2030. YVR the works, and the Roberts Bank Container Terminal is being expanded at a cost of $2 billion. In February, Canadian National Railway Co. announced that it had reached agreement with the federal government and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to double-track a segment of its rail line running along the south shore of Burrard Inlet that will enable increased cargo traffic in and out of Vancouver's harbour.
Big changes are afoot for the region’s health-care infrastructure as well. Providence Health Care received provincial funding approval in February for a state-of-the-art, 7.4-hectare, $1.9-billion health research campus inspired by the likes of Johns Hopkins and Cedars-Sinai on Vancouver’s False Creek Flats, to replace the old St. Paul’s Hospital. Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster is likewise being redeveloped, at a cost of $1.1 billion. Meanwhile, BC Children’s and Women’s hospitals are slated to undergo $676 million in improvements.
As might be expected in the context of continued population growth, the list of residential, commercial and mixed-use developments planned or under construction is a long one. Some significant projects (over $1 billion investment) worth mentioning are: Concord Pacific’s False Creek Central in Vancouver, the Brentwood Town Centre redevelopment in Burnaby, King George Station in Surrey, Oakridge Centre in Vancouver, the South Burrard lands in Vancouver, the Tsawwassen First Nation in Delta, River District in Vancouver, the Mission Waterfront project and International Plaza in Richmond. Densification is the word as the remaining single-family housing along arterial roads and surrounding SkyTrain stations throughout Metro Vancouver is gradually giving way to mid- and high-rise residential and mixed-use development.
Resource industries continue to hold their own amid the urban-oriented, service-sector growth, too. It doesn’t get much attention in the shadow of the massive LNG Canada project in northern B.C., but the Lower Mainland has a stake in the natural gas export business. Wood-fibre LNG is investing $1.6 billion to transform a former pulp mill site on Howe Sound near Squamish into what’s likely to be Canada’s first natural gas liquefaction and export terminal, helping oil and gas producers in northeastern B.C. and Alberta serve new markets in Asia.
An even larger project planned for Sea-to-Sky country is the Garibaldi at Squamish ski and four-season resort, subject of a recently released master plan for public consultation. The plan calls for construction to start on the Brohm Ridge site, just north of Squamish, in 2023, opening of the first phase in 2025 and a full, $3.5-billion build-out – including 21 lifts, a 22,000-bed village and capacity for 17,538 visitors a day – by 2040.
GRAVITATING TO THE VALLEY
Notwithstanding these developments, the Lower Mainland’s hot spot for population and economic growth for the foreseeable future is widely considered to be the Fraser Valley. Joe Varing sees affordability issues for both people and companies in Metro Vancouver’s core municipalities continuing to drive people and businesses toward the expansive area east of the city for at least another quarter century. “If you want to start or grow your business, the Valley is the place to be,” says Varing, director of sales for Varing Marketing Group, a division of Homelife Glenayre Realty Company.
He cites the examples of Molson Coors Brewing Co. moving its regional brewery to Chilliwack from Vancouver’s west side and KPMG moving approximately 30 jobs to a new location in Langley from its office in Burnaby.
Varing says it’s a misconception that the Fraser Valley is also running out of space: “There’s a lot of land east of the Port Mann [Bridge] that is not spoken for.” He estimates that there are more than 1,000 acres of undeveloped land earmarked for residential development in Surrey alone. In addition, developers are just now beginning to make significant partnerships with First Nations on their extensive land base. “We’re just missing the [rapid] transit link,” Varing says, adding that that development is simply a matter of time. Regardless of short-term swings in the real estate market, “There will be communities and sub-communities with commercial nodes created. There will be a lot of opportunity.”
|▷ Abbotsford||▷ Hope||▷ North Vancouver||▷ Surrey|
|▷ Burnaby||▷ Langley||▷ Pitt Meadows||▷ Vancouver|
|▷ Chilliwack||▷ Lillooet||▷ Port Moody||▷ West Vancouver|
|▷ Coquitlam||▷ Maple Ridge||▷ Richmond||▷ Whistler|
|▷ Delta||▷ Mission||▷ Sechelt|
|▷ Gibsons||▷ New Westminster||▷ Squamish|