Smithers Offers the Best of Both Worlds

Economic diversity thrives in picturesque town nestled at the base of Hudson Bay Mountain

Too often in the business world, growth is fast and dramatic — which more often than not leads to equally dramatic downturns. That’s why a host of different types of companies gladly call Smithers their home: located between Prince George and Prince Rupert, the town of some 5,300 people and the surrounding Bulkley Valley is a place of deliberately slow and steady expansion.

It’s the ideal climate for long-term business prospects as well as the sustainability of the alpine way of life for which Smithers is famous — as can attest the many entrepreneurs who have established successful companies in town, such as Bandstra Transportation, Hy-Tech Diamond Drilling, and Central Mountain Air.

Smithers also possesses the elements one would normally not expect from a rural community. For example, it has the second-highest number of PhDs per capita of any community in B.C. (Victoria has the most). Thanks to a proliferation of special retail boutiques fronting the red-brick sidewalks of Main Street (which the town requires to be maintained in the alpine design style), it is a bona-fide shopping destination in northwest B.C. And of course, it retains its traditional economic base of forestry and mining.

Of all the industries that are driving Smithers’ prosperity, tourism comes first. “It contributes the most to the province’s GDP,” says Heather Gallagher, manager of the Smithers Chamber of Commerce. 

To which Gladys Atrill, executive director of Tourism Smithers, adds: “We’ve really got the best of both worlds. We have a thriving downtown thanks to our economic diversity, which guests from all over enjoy, in addition to our regional ski hills, biking, hunting, and fishing.” On that note, it’s worth pointing out that Smithers has some of the best angling (especially for steelhead) in the province.

If being situated at the base of Hudson Bay Mountain and glacier has helped make Smithers a tourism destination (as has a regional airport with daily flights to Vancouver), its location on Highway 16 also allows local firms to service northern B.C’s quickly expanding mining and mineral exploration sector.

If that’s not enough, the competitive business rates and stunning scenery have attracted the bright lights of Hollywood: the Liam Neeson action film The Grey was shot in and around the town.

Gallagher expects young professionals, families, and retirees alike to continue to make Smithers their home well into the future, given its growth potential: at the airport alone are 340 hectares of undeveloped land, much of which is ideal for shipping, logistics, and service companies. 

But for all of the town’s popularity, both the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Smithers are primarily devoted to maintaining gradual growth. “We want people to come here, but just the right number,” says Gallagher. 

Atrill adds: “We’re a success because of our unique attributes, so it’s in our best interest to preserve them.”