Township of Langley: Hub of the Fraser Valley

The Township of Langley flourishes while striking a balance between rural and urban sensibilities.

The Township of Langley flourishes while striking a balance between rural and urban sensibilities

As a destination for businesses and developers, the Township of Langley “arrived” some time ago. For the past decade, in fact, its growth has been of the most robust in Metro Vancouver. Now that Langley Township is a bona fide business destination, the name of the game is to manage that growth to the Township’s best advantage. “We’ve evolved dramatically in a relatively short period of time,” says Langley Township mayor Jack Froese, “but growth over the next 30 years is going to be even more dramatic. We’re a municipality with distinct rural and urban components, and that’s the balance we have to maintain.”

Langley Township’s economic development manager Gary MacKinnon adds, “Currently we’re home to 106,000 residents, and that number will increase to 210,000 in 30 years. These are the kinds of numbers that literally transform neighbourhoods and give rise to new or redeveloped town cores. But given our special situation, we’re taking extra care to achieve a balance that will continue to attract business as well as enhance Langley Township’s desirability as a place to live.”

MacKinnon is referring to the Township’s famous horse stables, farms and sprawling estates. Outsiders might assume that these areas are vulnerable to development, but the reverse is true. MacKinnon points to a map on his wall showing six neighbourhoods scattered around a huge green core, much like small planets circling a massive sun. “The green area is the country part of Langley Township, and it’s all in the Agricultural Land Reserve,” he explains. “All told, approximately 77 per cent of our land is locked in the ALR. This means we have to be very creative in developing our six neighbourhoods, because that’s where all the growth will have to take place.”

The neighbourhoods are Aldergrove, Brookswood, Fort Langley, Murrayville, Walnut Grove and Willoughby. To illustrate the size of some of these communities, general manager of engineering and community development Ramin Seifi mentions two of the biggest: Brookswood to the west, and Willoughby further north. “Brookswood’s 13,000 residents is expected to grow to 45,000 in 30 years. Similarly, Willoughby has 19,000 people and that number is expected to grow to 78,000 over the same time period.” Given that the boundaries of these communities can’t be expanded and much of the land within has already been developed, the Township is faced with redeveloping vast areas in order to maximize space.

Historically, businesses find success locating in Langley Township. Deloitte LLP has operated there since 1975. Along with many other offices, this spurred residential development that helped the community become more than a sleepy satellite of Vancouver. Other prominent businesses and organizations that call the Township home include EV Logistics, Pharmasave Drugs (National) Ltd. (national head office), and the Fraser Valley Area 4 office of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.

In 2008, accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP relocated to Langley 200 Business Centre. Three years later Great-West Life followed suit and last November, Freedom 55 Financial, a division of London Life, moved into a new 70,000-square-foot building. Deloitte is also expanding by leasing 20,000-30,000 square feet at Langley 200 Business Centre.

The impetus for this growth is not necessarily the skyrocketing cost of staying in Vancouver or the Township’s distinct, business-friendly approach (which includes favourable leasing rates, taxes and other benefits). Instead, these companies relocated in order to optimize growth. Deloitte managing partner Rick Bublitz recently explained to media that Deloitte’s expansion was partly due to the increase of qualified professionals living south of the Fraser River who are tired of the commute to Vancouver. Other business owners also agree that their client base is shifting steadily south.
[pagebreak] It helps that the Township is a hub of the Fraser Valley, intersected by four highways and directly linked to the rest of Canada by the Trans-Canada Highway. Four U.S. border crossings are within a 20-minute drive from the Township’s business zones, and the recent reconstruction of the Port Mann Bridge has reduced travel time for those who still commute to Vancouver. In addition, the Langley Regional Airport is a major business centre: it accommodates over 40 high-tech aviation-related firms and is the largest helicopter airport in Canada, receiving choppers from around the world for repair and providing flight training for local and international students. The airport, which has recently undergone significant improvements, is also home to Vector Aerospace, a helicopter aviation company with an excellent international reputation. Late in 2012 Vector announced a major expansion that will bring as many as 180 jobs and a commitment to attract additional major investments, nearly doubling the technical activity and production of the airport.

Mayor Froese points out that whether it’s a flight student or a high-tech researcher in one of the Township’s business parks, they need only drive 10 minutes (or less) to be immersed in the bucolic tranquility that first put Langley Township on the map. They don’t have to be horse lovers to enjoy the country (although equestrians the world over flock to Thunderbird Show Park and the 560 hectares of wilderness that is Campbell Valley Regional Park). The Township boasts six wineries, including the renowned Domaine de Chaberton Estate, and elaborate greenhouses and hobby farms abound. “This is what makes us unique,” says Froese, who has lived in Langley Township for 34 years and is also a business owner. “You can work all day in a bustling downtown core, and within minutes you can be in true countryside.”

Faced with expanding the Township around the ALR, Froese, Seifi and their colleagues have embarked on a strategy of intensive public meetings with residents and other stakeholders. The process has met with great enthusiasm. “We’ve had three neighbourhood planning meetings so far in Brookswood, with 500 people showing up for the third, and waiting lists for all three,” says MacKinnon. “It’s a terrific display of civic involvement.”

Seifi admits public involvement may be frustrating to some developers: “It typically takes two years just to develop a community plan. However, during this time all perspectives are heard and studied, and from there we’re able to develop solid foundations that we can present to council.” In other words, residents are able to provide input in regards to the development of their neighbourhood, and if preliminary talks in Brookswood are anything to go by, that neighbourhood may eventually accommodate self-contained live/shop/work villages that are immensely popular with young professionals, young families and seniors.

Highrise development is also being considered in other areas. “In the meantime, we’re regulating for a sustainable future,” says Seifi. “If a developer comes here with an eye on a specific property, we insist on a healthy mix of development—not just condos.”

Although the way the Township will change is still conceptual, Langley’s achievement as a jobs provider is concrete. “For some time now we’ve worked towards the goal of providing a job for every Langley Township resident in the labour force, and currently we’re at .93,” says MacKinnon. “We’re well positioned to meet our goal and even exceed it.”

For his part, Froese is proud of what has been accomplished to date. “We’ve got very effective processes in place and we continue to implement business-friendly strategies like the inter-municipal business license, which took effect in January, because we think the current inflow of companies can continue for at least the next 10 years.”

“Our evolution is exciting,” concludes the Township of Langley’s mayor. “The challenges ahead are substantial, and we don’t take them lightly. For those who locate here because of the economic and lifestyle benefits, all I can suggest is that the best is yet to come.”

This promotional feature was prepared by BCBusiness magazine’s Special Advertising Features Dept. Writer: Robin Brunet. For more information contact VP of corporate features John Cochrane at 604-299-7311. Email: