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Thompson-Okanagan: Migrant Haven

The southern Interior's economy has been bolstered by an influx of remote workers.

Credit: Nestled between Okanagan and Skaha lakes, Penticton will host the BCEDA 2023 BC Economic Summit. 

The southern Interior’s economy has been bolstered by an influx of remote workers.

With its sunny climate, abundance of lakes, mountains and vineyards and moderate cost of living, the Thompson Okanagan region is a choice destination for the growing ranks of remote workers able to do their jobs from anywhere, as long as there’s high-bandwidth internet access. Research conducted by the City of Penticton, host community for the BCEDA 2023 BC Economic Summit, showed that, contrary to expectations, just 9% of people who moved to the South Okanagan community in 2022 were over 65. More than threequarters were working-aged migrants aged 19-65 and 27%, young families with children. Just 21% of these new arrivals described themselves as retired.

Migration isn’t just a factor in Penticton. The population of the Thompson Okanagan as a whole rose 10.7% between the 2016 and 2021 censuses, more than any other region. Kelowna and Kamloops both saw population increases in the double digits over the five-year period, placing them among Canada’s five fastestgrowing metropolitan areas. The Kelowna area was the national leader, growing 14% between the last two censuses to 220,000.

The region’s economy has long been sustained by a diverse mix of industries: forest products, agriculture, tourism, mining, manufacturing and transportation. But the influx of self-employed and remote workers in recent years has served to increase consumer demand and driven home price gains throughout the region. Housing starts jumped by more than 50% in 2021.

As of 2022, there were 52 major projects collectively worth $12 billion under construction in the Thompson Okanagan, most of them residential and recreational. The largest was the $2.1-billion Wilden Development, a masterplanned community in the hills north of Kelowna. Central 1 Economics expects the migration to slow with the end of the pandemic, however, and for rising interest rates to curb further housing cost increases.

In Kamloops, building permits hit a new high of $415 million in 2022, more than doubling since 2016. The city’s downtown is undergoing a renaissance with the addition of new premium office space in 2022 in the form of The Hive’s Building One. The developer plans to add two more mid-rise office buildings in the same block, close to the Centrepoint meeting facility. Two residential towers and equally distinctive mid-rise buildings form the core of City Gardens.

Credit: UBC Okanagan in Kelowna is exceeding enrolment targets.

Likewise in Kelowna, the University of B.C. Okanagan is opening a downtown campus. With 12,000 students, the university has exceeded its enrolment targets and needs additional classroom space. It has also announced plans for a new Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Innovation (ICI) building to open its doors at the main campus near Kelowna International Airport in 2025.

Okanagan College, meanwhile, opened its new Health Sciences Centre in Kelowna for the fall 2021 term. The college is also more than doubling its on-campus student housing in Kelowna, as well as at campuses in Vernon and Salmon Arm.

Kelowna gained a state-of-the-art museum and conference facility in 2022 with the KF Centre for Excellence. The 60,000-square-foot, fuselage-shaped building at Kelowna Airport features vintage aircraft and exhibits recording the history of aviation in the Okanagan Valley. A big part of that was played by KF Aerospace, founded as an airplane repair shop (Kelowna Flightcraft) in 1970 and today one of the province’s biggest manufacturing and transportation concerns.

Spreading Prosperity

To the north of Kelowna, Vernon broke records in 2022 with more than $200 million in building permits issued. The golf-centered Predator Ridge development is expanding with a new village centre featuring new retail, restaurant, hotel and residential space, along with public amenities. Vernon is also welcoming new industrial development with Wesmont Group’s Salt Centre, featuring 350,000 square feet of space spread over eight buildings. With its first phase now fully leased, Silver Star Gateway business park has begun construction on two more phases with five buildings, including a retail component.

Credit: Vernon’s Predator Ridge course golf community continues to expand. 

For its part, the city is investing in livability with plans for a $160-million athletic complex next to the existing Kal Tire Place arena, on the site of the old Kin Race Track. Meanwhile, the Regional District of North Okanagan is building a $40-million Greater Vernon Cultural Centre downtown, featuring museum and performance space.

Beyond city limits, information technology tycoon Markus Frind is making a splash in the wine industry by planting a 900-acre property at the north end of Okanagan Lake with Cabernet Sauvignon and other grapes not previously considered viable this far north. His Frind Estate Winery plans to construct a wine experience centre and restaurant on the property.

In another boost for the tourism trade, the provincial government has announced plans to increase the remaining two- and three-lane sections of the Trans-Canada Highway through the region to be upgraded to four lanes.

The Okanagan’s business support ecosystem is the subject of a new campaign, OKGo, that highlights the growth stories of local companies. Find out more about the region’s manufacturing, aerospace, viticulture, agriculture, digital and cannabis industries at Starting in 2021, ETSI-BC, a regional Trust established by the Province of B.C. in 2006, launched a new strategic plan that is seeing significant supports flowing to communities and business support organization within the region.

Thompson-Okanagan: Migrant Haven

Visit Other Regions of BC:

Lower Mainland-Southwest: Bullish Outlook

Vancouver Island/Coast: Fairer Shores

Kootenay: Rooted in Community

Cariboo: Northern Crossroads

North Coast-Nechako: Export Driven

Northeast: Energizing BC

Browse Invest in BC:

British Columbia: The Sustainable Advantage

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