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North Coast-Nechako: Export Driven

The northwest continues to draw more than its share of major project investment.

Credit: LNG Canada, under construction in Kitimat, is the biggest-budget industrial project ever to be built in Canada.

The northwest continues to draw more than its share of major project investment.

Though sparsely populated, the North Coast/Nechako region has always punched above its weight in terms of its contribution to the provincial economy. For more than a century it’s provided a vital second transcontinental rail corridor and Pacific Coast port for trade between Canada and Asia. Since the 1950s it has been home to the Kitimat aluminum smelter (now owned by Rio Tinto), the largest manufacturing operation in B.C. And it contains the Golden Triangle, a mountainous area rich in copper and precious metals that for decades has attracted the lion’s share of the dollars spent on mineral exploration in the province.

Today, the North Coast is the site of the largest capital project ever undertaken in all of Canada. LNG Canada, a partnership of international energy companies led by Royal Dutch Shell, is midway through building a $36-billion liquefied natural gas export terminal in Kitimat, with a decision on a second phase expected at the end of 2023. It will be complemented by the $14.5-billion Coastal Gaslink pipeline, bringing natural gas from B.C.’s Northeast and Alberta to waiting LNG tankers in Douglas Channel. The business case for the project only got stronger in 2022, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted natural gas supplies to Europe and other markets supplies that could potentially be augmented by imports from Canada once the terminal is operational in 2025.

Credit: Prince Rupert is the transcontinental rail terminus closest to Asian markets.

All in all, Northwestern B.C. accounts for nearly half the major project spend in the entire province, the Chartered Professional Accountants of B.C. noted in their latest B.C. Check-up. In addition to LNG Canada and Coastal Gaslink, work is proceeding on the $600-million Fairview Container Terminal expansion in Prince Rupert, the $623-million Mills Memorial Hospital redevelopment project in Terrace, a $75-million port expansion in Stewart and a handful of independent power projects scattered throughout the region.

These energy, transportation and health care projects illustrate how the economy of North Coast and Nechako has diversified beyond the traditional activities of logging, fishing and mining. The combination of high commodity prices and huge capital projects “creates a window of opportunity for Northern B.C. to capitalize on these investments to grow small and medium enterprise, while at the same time utilizing the proceeds of public-sector investments to improve infrastructure, amenities, and services in our communities to make them more sustainable and attractive places to call home,” wrote Joel McKay, chief executive officer of the Northern Development Initiative Trust, in his introduction to the non-profit’s State of the North report for 2021.

In the Golden Triangle, Newcrest Mining is expanding the Red Chris Mine at a cost of $1.5 billion and the KSM copper-gold mine is in preconstruction, with a budget of $5.3 billion. Several other mineral exploration projects in the feasibility and permitting stages.

Credit: Smithers matches recreational opportunities with its role serving the mineral exploration industry.

The Yellowhead corridor between Smithers to Vanderhoof, part of the Nechako region, has been affected by forest industry consolidation. Nonetheless, the communities in the area have demonstrated remarkable resilience over the years and have managed to thrive. Recent retail and commercial developments in Houston have led to the establishment of a full-time grocery store and a Tim Hortons, among other opportunities.

Although Canfor Corp. has temporarily shut down its Houston sawmill, it plans to modernize the facility and create more value-added jobs through the addition of a manufacturing plant.

Burns Lake is witnessing a flourishing partnership between local governments and Indigenous communities, which has resulted in the continued support for Babine Forest Products and the development of the award-winning Keyoh Lodge that is owned and operated by Ts’il Kaz Koh, formerly known as the Burns Lake Band.

The North Coast/Nechako is working to turn the current burst of business activity around major projects into a base for stable employment and tax revenues far into the future.

North Coast-Nechako: Export Driven

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

Northeast: Energizing BC

Browse Invest in BC:

British Columbia: The Sustainable Advantage

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