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Energy investments provide a welcome shot in the arm for the northern Interior
Destination BC/Grant HarderWith the smallest population base of all B.C.’s development regions – the largest city is Smithers, population 5,400 – the Nechako region can see its economic fortunes materially affected by a single mill shutdown or highway construction project or, as is the case for the foreseeable future, developments in neighbouring regions. Specifically, there will be spillover in the northern Interior from the massive LNG Canada project in Kitimat, to the west, and its associated Coast GasLink pipeline, which will end up traversing Nechako from east to west.
The twin projects are expected to absorb any slack in northern B.C.’s labour market, certainly among people with construction trades, project management and engineering skills. Liquefied natural gas development is also expected to influence housing sales and prices: “Nechako-area price gains are forecast to rise four percent in 2019 and two percent in 2020, as Kitimat-area growth reverberates to neighbouring regions,” Central 1 Credit Union deputy chief economist Bryan Yu wrote in a November 2018 outlook for the region.
TRIAL BY FIRE
The boost provided by LNG comes at a fortuitous time, given the challenges faced by the Nechako region’s traditional economic drivers, forest products and mineral exploration. Though the market for lumber has been strong in recent years due to the recovery in American housing construction since the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-10, the northern Interior faces both U.S. softwood lumber tariffs and cutbacks in the timber supply in the wake of the mountain pine beetle infestation of the past three decades, particularly in the Lakes Timber Supply Area surrounding Burns Lake.
Further, “wildfire activity over the past two summers has eaten into a good chunk of the available timber in the region and exacerbated an already challenging timber supply picture due to the aftermath of the mountain pine beetle epidemic and the current challenges with spruce and fir beetles,” wrote Joel McKay, CEO of the Northern Development Initiative Trust, in the foreword to the agency’s 2019 State of the North report. “Looking forward, reduced timber supply will place continued downward pressure on this sector and force some forest companies to rationalize their operations, which could mean shutdowns, further job loss and community impacts in the coming years.”
|▷ Atlin||▷ Fort St. James||▷ Smithers|
|▷ Burns Lake
||▷ Fraser Lake
|▷ Cassiar||▷ Granisle||▷ Vanderhoof|
|▷ Dease Lake