BCBusiness in partnership with BCEDA

The Rise of the Service Economy

By the looks of most business indicators, the southern Interior is successfully navigating the transition to a services-based economy

BernardIn the words of the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia, the Thompson-Okanagan region has enjoyed a “stellar year in terms of economic growth” (Regional Check-Up 2018).

Strong job creation has absorbed much of the remaining slack in the economy of the Thompson-Okanagan since the recession of 2008-10, with employment growing 4.6 percent in 2017 alone. Over the past three decades, the region, which is blessed with an abundance of developable land and improved airport and highway connections, has secured a dominant position in the B.C. economy. A big part of this positive shift has been the long-term transition away from resource extraction and toward a diversified economy focused on technology, tourism, education, health services, the film industry and agriculture.

The Thompson-Okanagan region is becoming well known as a rapidly expanding technology hub in B.C. In the Okanagan alone, the tech sector is estimated to contribute more than $1.67 billion to the region’s economy. The dominant business type found in the region is based around technology software and services, however there is also a unique cluster of hightech manufacturing businesses that offer diverse and innovative products to markets ranging from local to global. With over 1,000 businesses currently operating in the region, overall growth in the technology sector is projected to continue moving forward.

StatsTourism remains a strong economic driver throughout the Thompson-Okanagan, with a wide range of four-season recreation and experience offerings garnering interest from a diverse range of tourist demographics. Approximately 8 million people visit the region each year, most of these visitors fitting into “authentic experiencers,” “free spirits” and “cultural explorers” traveller profiles. Kamloops Regional and Kelowna International airports have both experienced significant growth over the past decade, which has supported streamlined access to the region for both tourists and business travellers.

The region has seen growth in educational services, too, with the ongoing expansion of the University of B.C.’s Okanagan campus as well as Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. The proportion of the regional labour force with high, 67.9 percent, reflecting both the increased availability of post-secondary programs and the heightened demands of the job market. The agriculture industry also remains strong, with major advances in agri-tech and agrifood production as well as significant applied research projects supported by the region’s post-secondary institutions. Health services also remain a key sector in the regional economy. An accessible and diverse range of services are supported in part by the large proportion of retirees the region attracts.

RESIDENTIAL INFLUX

In addition to benefiting from spillover development from capacity-constrained industries in the Lower Mainland like housing and recreation, the film industry is also seeing strong growth throughout the Thompson Okanagan. “We want to see the cluster of the motion picture industry grow into the B.C. Interior,” Mastermind Studios president and CEO Peter Cameron-Inglis told BCBusiness. “If we’re talking about the future growth of the industry, the only way we’re going to be able to tap into it more and double the capacity of British Columbia is to look at other regions like the B.C. Interior and what we’re doing here and supporting that.”

Many communities in the region are also experiencing record-breaking residential development. The construction boom includes diverse housing options, ranging from single family residential to major multi-family housing developments. Much of this activity is in response to demand generated in the Lower Mainland, which the Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board reports as providing the largest inflow buyer group to this region. Among these buyers, couples with children is the largest demographic, followed by families without children and, finally, empty-nesters/retirees. Residential development expansions also continue at winter and multi-season resorts including Revelstoke Mountain, Kicking Horse, Big White and Sun Peaks. In addition to the desirable quality of life the Thompson- Okanagan affords, some of this growth is thanks to the supportive business climate created in each community across the region.

Barriere Kelowna Penticton
Cache Creek Lytton Revelstoke
Clearwater Merritt Salmon Arm
Clinton Oliver ▷ Summerland
Golden ▷ Osoyoos Vernon
Kamloops ▷ Peachland

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