Exploring the growing appeal of B.C.’s second cities

Victoria | BCBusiness

The middle ground

When it comes to where you live, the choice needn’t be all or nothing: big, expensive city or small town with reasonable real estate prices. Beneath the skyscrapers and beyond the farms, there are the Victorias and Kelownas—cities that, while not international hubs, still have diverse job markets and no shortage of quaint cafés and cool bars. They also rank quite well, according to our list: Victoria is No. 16, Kelowna, No. 17, with the Fraser Valley cities of Abbotsford-Mission and Chilliwack taking spots 18 and 19.

Consider our capital. Government gigs are what Victoria is known for, but that’s just one slice of the job market. According to a report released by the Victoria Advanced Technology Council last September, Victoria’s local tech sector pumps $4 billion—yes, billion—into the region’s economy annually, the combined impact of nearly 900 local tech firms. Then there’s tourism, adding over $1 billion, and education: the University of Victoria, which employs and enrolls roughly 30,000 students and staff, was ranked Canada’s second-best comprehensive university by Maclean’s last fall.

While Victoria may not have all the big-city trappings of Vancouver, it’s quickly acquiring some similar big-city problems—including income inequality. According to Bruce Carter, CEO of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, the capital is divided between “a large number of lower-paying, service-sector jobs and a lot of higher-income earners.” That’s made worse by Victoria’s rather high real estate prices, Carter says, but some “people will accept a tradeoff between salary and quality of life to live here…. Our tech sector certainly doesn’t accept a trade-off in terms of income, but they are here for quality of life.”

Kelowna, where homes are slightly more affordable, also has a flourishing tech scene, with a new innovation hub—the $35-million, 106,000-square-foot Okanagan Centre for Innovation in downtown Kelowna—slated for completion in 2016. And as always, there’s Kelowna’s renowned wine industry, which doubles as a draw for tourists: the city itself is home to over 30 wineries, while the surrounding Okanagan Valley boasts over 200.

Sure, Kelowna could have better public transit and, yes, there are a lot of retirees moving to town—not always a sign of a robust job market. But as one of the fastest-growing cities outside of Metro Vancouver, Kelowna is moving up. The smart job seeker might want to hop aboard the Okanagan elevator.

For a closer look at our Best Cities package, including analysis, heat maps and our methodology, click here >>