Why Metro Vancouver will always come out (almost) on top

Vancouver | BCBusiness

An urban era

When Richard Florida, arguably the most famous urban theorist alive, took the stage at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre last fall, he told a sold-out crowd that he loved B.C.’s biggest city, calling it one of the most beautiful on the planet. But more than that, Florida argued that Vancouver is where B.C.’s future lies.

That future is intricately linked to the rise of what Florida calls the “creative class.” His theory (repeated by media types everywhere): the world economy is undergoing one of the most radical transitions of all time, from one filled with mostly labour jobs—think manufacturing, where employment has been declining for decades—to one filled with software developers, consultants, marketers, artists. And these people, more often than not, choose to live in big cities. According to Florida, nearly 40 per cent of Metro Vancouverites are now employed in creative class jobs; among downtown residents, that percentage doubles. “Our cities are the arenas of innovation,” he told the QE crowd.

It’s fair to say our Best Cities data jibes with Florida’s theory: Metro Vancouver cities dominate the top spots on our list and none rank poorly. That’s good news considering the region is home to more than half of all B.C. residents (including most BCBusiness readers).

And with that sort of size comes critical mass when it comes to the labour force. “In Vancouver you can find people who you just cannot find anywhere else,” says Peter Miron, senior research associate at Environics. “If there are only three people who specialize in a niche, you’re always going to find them in the city.” This labour specialization, as Miron calls it, can only exist in markets large enough to support specialties—markets like Vancouver. “A lot of the growth we’ve seen in cities is a result of this diversification,” Miron explains. “If you look at the most successful cities in Canada, for the most part they have been large.”

While Metro Vancouver may not have a lot of head offices, it maintains an impressively diverse economy base. The region is Canada’s gateway to Asia, it has multibillion-dollar tech and film sectors, and it’s one of the world’s mining capitals, home to over 800 global mining firms.

Yes, it’s a famously expensive place to set down roots. But as a place to work and find work, Metro Vancouver has few equals. As Richard Florida put it, “The factories of our time are the Silicon Valleys, the Torontos, the Vancouvers.”

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