The frontier lifestyle lives on in north-central B.C.
The most thinly populated of all British Columbia’s economic regions, Nechako is the kind of place to write your own story. The region stretches from the Highway 16 corridor in the south all the way to the Yukon border in the north, taking in vast swaths of mostly untracked forests and mountains.
This has long made the region attractive for mineral exploration, logging and trapping. Other important sources of economic activity include transportation, communications and energy infrastructure crossing the region between the B.C. Interior and the Pacific Coast—most notably the Coastal Gaslink pipeline being built across the region to bring natural gas from B.C.’s Northeast and Alberta to the mammoth LNG Canada terminal and liquefaction plant in Kitimat. B.C. government forecasts show expected employment growth of 1.5 percent through 2022, with much of the growth taking place in the construction sector.
The region’s largest community is the Town of Smithers. With just 5,400 residents, Smithers has nonetheless given rise to companies known far beyond its boundaries, such as Bandstra Transportation Systems, Central Mountain Air and Hy-Tech Drilling. It may feel like you’re on the frontier, but Smithers actually has the second-highest proportion of PhDs per capita in the province (after Victoria).
With the ski slopes of Hudson Bay Mountain at its back and outstanding fishing and hiking opportunities close by, Smithers offers an enviable quality of life.
It also has a busy airport with scheduled service to Dease Lake, Kamloops, Prince George, Terrace, Vancouver, Williams Lake and more, making it a hub for the mineral exploration industry. Among new industries, Pinnacle Renewable Energy of Prince George recently converted a particle board facility into a producer of pellets for fuel, made from wood waste.
To the east, Vanderhoof anchors the region’s southeast corner. Working hard to diversify its economy beyond the forest industry, the town is building an aviation-related business park at the municipal airport where students working toward an aviation business diploma with the College of New Caledonia can test their skills. Vanderhoof is also developing a business care program focused on the manufacturing sector, as well as partnering in the White Sturgeon Recovery Centre, helping resuscitate populations of this remarkable fish species.
Nechako is home to the fully operational Mount Milligan copper-gold mine north of Fort St. James. Owner Centerra Gold is also looking to reopen the Kemess mine site in B.C.’s far north to develop the Kemess Underground and Kemess East operations in the future. After completing a series of upgrades, Coeur Mining brought the Silvertip lead/zinc/silver mine, just south of the Yukon border, into production in 2018 and posted its first full year in operation in 2019 with 167 employees.
Earlier this year, the B.C. government unveiled a reconciliation agreement with the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council that will provide $175 million over five years to First Nations in the Nechako and Cariboo regions to support business development and partnerships, lay the groundwork for self-government and help revitalize Indigenous languages and culture. Noted Chief Priscilla Mueller of the Saik’uz First Nation: “The social-economic benefits to the Omineca region will be significant, and the message to all citizens should be that if First Nations prosper, then everyone prospers.”