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Kootenay: Rooted in Community

B.C.'s southeast offers lofty vistas and a relaxed pace of life.

Credit: Boundary Country Tourism/Tina Bryan

More distant from major cities than either the Thompson Okanagan or Vancouver Island, the Kootenay region in B.C.’s southeastern corner has long attracted the kind of people who like it that way. Scenic and affordable, yet still connected to the outside world with up-to-date road, rail, air and telecommunications infrastructure, it’s the kind of place for a quieter, community-centered lifestyle.

Yet even here the impact of remote workers fleeing the urban cost of living has been felt acutely. Cranbrook alone has issued building permits worth nearly $300 million over the past five years, more than double the number from the previous five-year period. Broadstreet Properties opened a 292-unit rental complex, Rockyview Place, in 2021 and is contemplating further phases. The city has also come up with a Tourism Master Plan that, combined with an existing downtown revitalization effort, seeks to make the regional hub more than a stopover on the way to resort towns like Fernie and Kimberley.

Like the rest of the region, Cranbrook is successfully navigating the transition from its historical dependency on the mining and forest industries to a more diversified, 21st-century economy. At the same time the city has been engaged in a unique municipal-First Nations reconciliation effort, the latest example of which is a memorandum of understanding with the Ktunaxa Nation to jointly develop a 52-acre site near the Canadian Rockies International Airport that the proponents aim to turn into a 30-megawatt utilitygrade renewable energy project.

Further north, the Village of Canal Flats is positioning itself as a technology cluster with the Columbia Lake Technology Centre, launched in 2018. Anchor tenants BID Group and PodTech employ 70 people at the site, which hosts fabrication shops and a data centre. Invermere is seeing development of its Crossroads area, including the PrairieWind retail project, along with expansions to both Home Hardware and Canadian Tire. The population of Radium Hot Springs jumped 72.5% between 2016 and 2021, thanks to resident attraction and new economic activity.

Credit: Trail’s MetalTechAlley puts a legacy knowledge base to new uses. | MetalTechAlley

There were 293 housing starts across the region in 2021, fewer than 2020 but still well ahead of the pace of development in 2018 and 2019. Many of these units are located in integrated resort developments that take advantage of the Kootenays’ unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities. Fernie Alpine Resort is undergoing $250 million in expansions to lifts, resort facilities and accommodations. Likewise Kimberley Ski Resort is building out further hotel and residential units. The Wildstone Golf and Residential Development is under way outside Cranbrook with a budget of $750 million. In the Rocky Mountains, Sparwood is home to a 900-unit residential and recreational golf development to go with the proposed $1.6-billion Baldy Ridge coal mine extension.

Upgrades to the Inland Gas system, meanwhile, are providing a $360-million boost throughout the Kootenay region.

In Accelerate Kootenays, the region has a unique grassroots strategy to build out its electric vehicle charging station network. With the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation, it also has a comprehensive open-access fibre-optic network. Another community-led economic development effort, MetalTechAlley, is harnessing an existing knowledge base in metallurgy, digital fabrication, industrial recycling, cleantech and the industrial internet of things in the smelting town of Trail and applying it to innovation in the circular economy. In Nelson, the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST) at Selkirk College helps companies and entrepreneurs develop prototypes and bring inventions to market.

Grand Forks, situated on the U.S. border and serving as the hub of Boundary Country, has shown remarkable resilience as a community. To attract businesses and new residents, the community has taken proactive and inventive measures such as creating Invest Grand Forks and developing an Economic Development Strategy.

Visit Other Regions of BC:

Lower Mainland-Southwest: Bullish Outlook

Vancouver Island/Coast: Fairer Shores

Thompson-Okanagan: Migrant Haven

Kootenay: Rooted in Community

Cariboo: Northern Crossroads

North Coast-Nechako: Export Driven

Northeast: Energizing BC

Browse Invest in BC:

British Columbia: The Sustainable Advantage

Download the full PDF of Invest in BC