Sponsored Content

Vancouver Island-Coast: Fairer Shores

The Island economy is growing more sophisticated, diversified and attractive for workers and companies alike.

Credit: Fast-growing Nanaimo is nurturing technology businesses and the circular economy while trying to protect its natural assets. 

The Island economy is growing more sophisticated, diversified and attractive for workers and companies alike.

Along with the Thompson Okanagan, Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast was a favoured destination for remote workers newly enabled by technology and the COVID-19 pandemic to take their jobs out of higher-cost cities like Vancouver. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the Island’s mild climate, access to the ocean and genteel cities and towns, the region’s population grew by 8.2% between the 2016 and 2021 censuses. Nanaimo was one of the five fastest-growing census metropolitan areas in Canada, expanding a 10.3% during that span. The Victoria suburb of Langford, not included in the list of CMAs, grew an astonishing 31.8%.

But Vancouver Island had a diversified and prosperous economy to begin with, one focused on public administration (Victoria is British Columbia’s capital city), tourism, higher education and research, the forest industry, fishing, farming, manufacturing and advanced technology. Construction is under way on almost $15 billion in large capital projects, including the $167-million Nanaimo Correctional Centre. Victoria’s Core Area Wastewater Management Project was completed in 2021. Following the completion of the John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project near Campbell River, BC Hydro has begun work on the John Hart Dam Seismic Upgrade Project. Central 1 Economics forecasts that Vancouver Island/Coast will have the strongest employment growth in the province in 2023 at 3.1%.

Credit: Langford is a hot spot for growth in Greater Victoria. | City of Langford

Langford’s torrid growth has a lot to do with the availability of developable land there and in its neighbouring western communities of Colwood, View Royal, Metchosin and Highlands— demographically, the Capital Region is moving westward. A new multi-school downtown campus is being built in the municipality to accommodate new classroom space for the University of Victoria, Royal Roads University, the Justice Institute of B.C., Camosun College and the Sooke School District serving area students.

The community is also opening new industrial space with Langford Heights Business Park and Pacific Ridge Business Centre. In 2021, Plexxis Software decided to move its entire headquarters from Brampton, Ont., to Langford, along with 100 jobs. It now calls the Plexxis Tower in the Lakepoint district its home base.

Further up the Island, Nanaimo recently completed a new city plan that will support thoughtful growth while protecting natural and physical assets and supporting fluid and efficient mobility. The city projects that it will continue growing to 145,000 residents by 2047. The number of businesses has been growing along with the number of people—up 9% over the past decade. In just the last five years, the number of sole proprietorships has gone up 8.1%.

Already a centre for health services for the mid-Island, Nanaimo Regional General Hospital recently opened an acute care ICU. Vancouver Island University continues to grow; students from more than 90 countries have attended its International MBA program.

A new 178-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel is opening in 2023. Later this year a high-speed passenger ferry service between Nanaimo and Vancouver is due to launch, making the city even more accessible for business and leisure travelers. Telus has partnered with developer Omicron to build 197 rental homes on a vacant portion of the telecommunications company’s office in downtown Nanaimo.

Embracing Sustainability

Nanaimo is home to some innovative economic development initiatives too. Businesses looking to develop sustainable processes can take advantage of support from the Circular Economy Accelerator program. Likewise, eight mid-Island communities have banded together to nurture a technology cluster under the Vancouver Island Tech Attraction Project.

Further up-Island, the City of Campbell River has likewise invested in initiatives supporting a healthy business ecosystem including CRadvantage, a municipally owned high-speed broadband network; TECHatchery, a virtual business hub; the Modern Entrepreneur at the 50th Parallel professional development series; and NexStream Tech Competition, made possible through a partnership with the Campbell River Area Angel Group. The City is a proud regional partner supporting the new Circular Economy Accelerator Program run by Vancouver Island Economic Development Association and Synergy Foundation.

On the Island’s west coast, Port Alberni has taken control of its future with the purchase of a prime, 43-acre sawmill site, the Somass Lands, and has invited expressions of interest from developers. The community became the headquarters of the Coastal Restoration Society in 2022. The non-for-profit dedicated to marine habitat cleanup, invasive species mitigation and research expects to ramp up to 200 employees over the next couple of years.

Growing businesses in the Alberni Valley include Coulson Aviation, which specializes in coastal firefighting operations and employs 130 people locally, and the Dock + Food Hub on the waterfront, which includes a commercial kitchen. Canadian Maritime Engineering (90 employees) has plans to build a 300-metre floating drydock in the harbour.

The City-owned heritage train station is being seismically upgraded and will become home to a 6,700-square-foot taphouse and restaurant in late 2023.

The city is a hub for a growing list of First Nations-owned businesses too. Having just concluded a $21-million Specific Claims action with the Government of Canada dating back to 1913, the Tseshaht First Nation intends to invest the funds in environmental, economic and social initiatives.

Credit: A new post-secondary campus and industrial space is coming to the community; Powell River has seen a
boom in new construction. 

Opposite Vancouver Island on the ferry-accessed Sunshine Coast, Powell River continues to attract migrants drawn by its relative affordability and coastal lifestyle. The city has seen over $170 million in construction since 2018. Both the city and Tla’amin Nation are working to foster the construction of more housing to meet demand as well as open up land for business development.

Vancouver Island/Coast: Fairer Shores

Visit Other Regions of BC:

Lower Mainland-Southwest: Bullish Outlook

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