The fourth-quarter numbers are in, and 2018 was another strong year for the Central Okanagan economy, according to numbers released by the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission on Tuesday.
The most stunning number in the economic indicators report was job postings, as the region experienced a whopping 49.3 per cent increase in that category last year. There was an average of 1,938 job postings per month, with sales and service jobs leading the listings at 30.4 per cent.
There was a 1.4 per cent increase in the Central Okanagan’s labour force, the average unemployment rate was five per cent, and the number of business licences jumped by 4.5 per cent.
The District of Peachland led the region in 2018 with a 14.2 per cent increase in business licences, while Westbank First Nation was next with 5.9 per cent growth.
Housing starts decreased by 28.6 per cent from 2017, which was expected after the area’s record numbers from 2014 to 2017.
Other notable numbers from the report were an increase in median newly constructed house price (up 25.3 per cent to $901,250), household income (a 19.5 per cent increase to $71,127) and population growth (two per cent growth to 208,864).
There is another conservation officer working the North Okanagan.
Last spring, 20 conservation officers were sworn in and they are now working at various locations throughout the province.
The new faces mark the largest influx of recruits the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (BCCOS) has had in a decade and will fill existing vacancies and newly-funded positions in locations with the highest need and areas where retirements are imminent.
“We have some communities that haven’t seen a new conservation officer for a very long time, so these new recruits will significantly improve services,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
The 160 conservation officers throughout B.C. are located in 45 communities and work on a zone-coverage basis, where they respond to complaints and concerns anywhere in the zone.
Sixteen of the new recruits are fresh out of the Western Conservation Law Enforcement Academy in Hinton, Alta. and will spend the next six months working with a field trainer. The other four officers come from law enforcement jurisdictions elsewhere.
“It’s an exciting time for the B.C. Conservation Officer Service. Communities and stakeholder groups are excited to see new officers out in the field protecting B.C.’s fish and wildlife, keeping citizens safe and ensuring our environment is sustainable for years to come,” said Doug Forsdick, chief conservation officer. “The new resources will enhance officer safety with a doubling of all of our single-officer posts. Areas with high-call volume and emerging pressures will also see an increase in staffing.”
Vernon is the only Okanagan community to get a new conservation officer.
BC Housing has announced plans to operate a new cold weather shelter at a motel on the south end of Penticton.
The Swiss Sunset Inn at 2604 Skaha Lake Rd. will host 20 cold weather beds, possibly to be operated by ASK Wellness, which manages the Fairhaven transitional housing development next door.
BC Housing would not comment on the arrangement that will see the beds used for the homeless, but a manager at the Swiss Sunset Inn told Castanet they are leasing the rooms out to the organization on a temporary basis with plans to resume regular tourist motel operations in the spring.
The 20 beds at the Swiss Sunset Inn will be in addition to 27 at the former site of the Super 8 on Main Street and 29 at Compass House, which is open all year.
The cold weather shelter at the old Super 8 and at Compass House is operated by the Salvation Army.
Shelter manager Roger Evans is optimistic there will be enough space to keep people off the streets this winter, noting they were able to manage last year.
The shelter at the Super 8 will be open Nov. 3, he said, and a mad dash is underway to get everything prepared. “Everything is coming together, and we will be ready.”
Evans estimated the renovations at the Super 8 to convert it into a transitional housing project, like the Fairhaven, should be complete in March.
The Salvation Army shelters are always accepting donations of blankets, warm clothing, slippers, toques and gloves. Donors can also help the homeless by gifting the same items to SOREB’s annual “warm up the winter” blanket drive, which has donations bins spread throughout the community.
Paul Ferley, assistant chief economist at RBC, will tell a Kelowna audience next month how red-hot economies on both sides of the 49th parallel can coexist in the time of Trump.
Ferley is scheduled to be keynote speaker during a noon-hour speech at the Urban Development Institute’s annual general meeting on Sept. 20.
The event is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. at the Coast Capri Hotel. Tickets are $45 for members and $65 for non-members.
The title of the event is the “Canadian economy at capacity and confronting challenges.”
While Canada’s unemployment rate is matching lows not seen since the 1970s, that’s also putting pressure on the Bank of Canada to keep gradually tightening policy in order to keep growth moderate.
Ferley is to also discuss how rising rates can have negative implications for the real estate market with residential investment particularly vulnerable on the downside given current high levels of activity.
A key challenge for the Bank of Canada is to set policy to help sustain some growth but not at too strong a pace that generates inflationary pressures.
However, the U.S. economy is also operating at capacity, which is expected to keep the Federal Reserve tightening policies there.
And while President Donald Trump’s tax reductions are keeping the U.S. economy growing, it might be too strong for too long, putting more pressure on inflation and resulting in further aggressive Fed policy.
Such implies even greater upward pressure on mortgage rates and borrowing costs.
Stephane and Beatrice Facon have a message for the person or people responsible for spray-painting the windows and walls of their downtown Kelowna business overnight Tuesday.
“We all know the reputation of the French lovers,” the owners of Bouchons Bistro wrote in an e-mail to the media. “We do encourage to love as much as we do but would appreciate it if you don’t share your love for each other on our walls.
“As business owners we were shocked to find some graffiti on our restaurant walls this morning. We believe in love as well as respecting private property.”
Stephane said they were able to clean a white heart off the window, but getting the initials M+M+T+Z off the window ledge and stone walls is not as easy. He plans to call the landlord to see what the options are, but it’s going to cost someone money and he doesn’t want to see it happen again.
“It’s a French bistro, OK,” Stephane said in his thick French accent, “but if they want to do it they can go to Paris.”
Oliver’s Covert Farms Family Estate has brought an impressive amount of hardware home from a wine competition in Germany.
The winery earned five gold medals and one silver at the International Organic Wine Award for several of its 100 per cent organic, estate-grown-and-produced wines.
Covert Farms was the only Canadian winery in the competition, which featured more than 1,000 organic wines from 28 countries.
“We are really proud of the results,” said Gene Covert, the estate’s winemaker and co-owner with his wife, Shelley. “This competition allows us to be measured against organic wineries around the world at a time when the international wine community continues to increase production of organically grown and produced wines.”
The winery’s red wines earned two gold medals for its 2015 Grand Reserve pinot noir and Grand Reserve cabernet sauvignon. Its 2015 Grand Reserve zinfandel earned a silver medal.
Gold was also awarded for its 2016 pinot blanc white wine, its Covert Farms rosé and its Ancestral pinot noir sparkling wine.
Covert Farms is located on a 650-acre property in Oliver, and the winery said it encourages “biodynamic growing” and using indigenous yeasts as often as possible.
An Okanagan business owner has been named one of the top 10 foodies of the year by Western Living.
Christine Coletta, who founded Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland, was announced as one of the honourees today. Coletta has been a leader in the B.C. wine industry, most notably creating a B.C. wine and Alberta food event recently in an effort to repair strained relations between the provinces.
The magazine noted “with a successful career in the B.C. wine industry, Coletta is a prime example of how talents in the industry have worked tirelessly to advocate for and to improve the Canadian culinary scene.”
Coletta helped numerous B.C. wineries establish their businesses earlier in her career, and then she launched her own wine, Haywire, along with Okanagan Crush Pad, which was Canada’s first purpose-built custom crush wine making facility.
“I am thankful to Western Living for shining a light on those who work hard to elevate and inspire with their food and wine efforts,” Coletta said in a press release. “Also, I am very thankful to the local restaurants, who bought B.C. wine when it was an unknown and for helping make the industry what it is today.”
A local tech startup has a new name, a new app, and several new initiatives that will make it easier for people to help their communities.
Do Some Good, formerly known as Volinspire, held a relaunch party on Monday night at the Okanagan Centre for Innovation to unveil its new look and its new features.
“Anyone can make an impact in the community simply by using their smart phone,” Do Some Good operations manager Jeff Hoffart said.
Not only can users of the app find volunteer opportunities throughout their community, but they can also identify and support the businesses that give money back to the community through Do Some Good. The consumer can also choose which charity receives the rebate.
“What I’ve learned is that people want to give back,” said Jeremy Lugowy, the United Way Central and South Okanagan Similkameen’s community engagement co-ordinator. “You just have to give them a platform to do that and give them options and an easy way.
“This is an exceptionally easy way with a great team, and I know the businesses I’m talking to are excited that something like this is out there. It’s unique, it’s local, and that’s important.”
Added Mamas for Mamas founder and CEO Shannon Christensen: “You get to give back simply by being a conscious consumer. I was born and raised here in Kelowna, and it is so important to me that we keep local money local.”
The app features a filter that allows users to find charities that champion issues important to them. There is also a community events database that can be added easily to a smartphone user’s calendar. The data is available to users as well.
“It allows you to track your impact, to record and log how you’re helping the community, whether it’s volunteerism, donations or organizations supported,” Hoffart said. “This is great for employees. It’s great for students. It’s kind of a community resume.”
Sheldon Gardiner, who founded Volinspire in December 2015 and oversaw its relaunch, believes the Do Some Good app will encourage local shopping, but more importantly strengthen the community.
“I grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan,” Gardiner said, “and my mom and dad pretty much taught me the values of community.”
A short time ago, Diane Herron left her business, sold all her stuff, and made her way to the Okanagan Valley.
Now, less than a year after she first landed, Herron is making an impact in Kelowna, crisscrossing the city in a tiny, fragrant, pink truck.
Herron’s new business, Sweet Dee’s Flowers, takes the food truck concept floral. From her Japanese micro truck Herron operates a kind of “flower bar” where she creates custom bouquets for passersby.
She only took the novel concept to the streets a little over a month ago, but people have already begun to take notice.
Herron got her start through Futurpreneur Canada’s start-up financing program, which helped her refine her business plan so she could secure a loan.
Normally, participants have access to a $30,000 loan through the program, but Herron had to make do with much less after the bank chose not to back her thanks to her previous career running her own boudoir photography studio.
“I just thought that was so funny,” she said. “It did kind of change a lot of things, though.”
Now, she had to make do with half the capital she initially expected, making the whole enterprise much more “scary.”
“Every day was just a different problem to solve, and there was no answer some days, and that was really frustrating,” she said.
But entrepreneurs make it work. Sweet Dee’s is named for Herron’s alter ego, a sugar-stuffed superhero with a sidekick cat living in her hair.
Herron created Sweet Dee when she was 21 and living on her own for the first time. The character helped her get through some tough times and has stuck with Herron ever since.
Taking on this new challenge, Herron revised her plans things started falling into place. It was cost restrictions that lead her to settle for the Japanese micro truck that houses Sweet Dee’s, and that truck has already gained the business some notoriety.
Herron says when she gets delivery orders her customers will often ask for a heads up just as she’s arriving so they get the visual impact of the truck—resplendant with flowers—rumbling up.
“It’s such a happy business. Everybody who comes up to the truck is always like ‘it’s so cute, everything’s so cute’ and they’re so happy to see the truck,” Herron said.
And really, she says, the truck is essentially the entire Sweet Dee’s brand. Herron said that, while people are often overjoyed when they see the truck fully stocked with flowers, take away the truck and the reception is decidedly more muted.
She says she’s left flowers for retailers to sell in the past, but “that hasn’t gone over so well.”
She says she’ll likely avoid a storefront for that reason, however, eventually she’d like to add more trucks to her fleet.
“I would love to have more trucks. I would love to have a truck in each neighbourhood. Just an army of flower trucks, I think that would be wonderful,” she says.
Right now, Herron sets up shop at various business and markets around town and appears every week at the East Kelowna Sunday Community Artisan Market. For news on her latest location, check out Sweet Dee’s online.
After being barred from board meetings, asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and “ignored” for years, Luke Weller is speaking out against Tourism Kelowna.
The owner of Ogopogo Parasail is spearheading a small group of Tourism Kelowna members who say the marketing organization’s new information centre will cripple their businesses.
The new building will open at the foot of Queensway Avenue this year. One of its services will see staff book activities for visitors through an online system (and collect commissions for each booking it finalizes).
Weller says that will put the centre in direct competition with its neighbours, who sell tickets out of a waterfront kiosk right next to the new centre. That’s a problem, he says, because those businesses are Tourism Kelowna members.
Weller explains that having an information centre booking activities right next door will cut into his businesses dramatically, as people who have just blown their budgets booking tours will pass him and his colleagues by.
Fifty-five per cent of his business comes from foot traffic, and he says Tourism Kelowna is “effectively bringing the entire valley to our doorstep to compete with us.”
“I think competing against your own stakeholders… it just shouldn’t be happening.”
Weller and others—like ail, Kelowna Cruises, HydroFly Kelowna, and Okanagan Adventures—are also angry at what they feel has been poor treatment by the organization, after they have spent years asking it to scrap its booking plans.
Not at the table
At its last meeting, the Tourism Kelowna board reviewed the group’s concerns and voted to move ahead with its booking plans.
No representatives from the complaining businesses were there, and it’s still unclear exactly how their concerns were represented.
Tom Killingsworth, the chairman of the Tourism Kelowna board, met with Weller after the meeting to go over the decision, but the board has so far continued to refuse Weller’s request to speak to them personally.
Weller is incensed by this, and says he is “amazed” the board showed no interest in hearing directly from the people its decisions stand to considerably affect.
Killingsworth says the issue simply isn’t as big a deal as Weller is making it out to be.
“I understand how upset Luke is getting… I understand what his approach is… but what is there to talk about?” he said.
Killingsworth said the information centre will actually help the next-door businesses. The board has already made up its mind on that “so bringing him to the board meeting is not really going to change anything.”
He said he’s “not opposed” to hearing from Weller personally if it’s that important to him, but that he doesn’t “understand what it’s going to do.”
The few vs. the many
Ayn Lexi of Okanagan Adventures says Tourism Kelowna is being “extremely combative” and “not listening to our concerns,” but Killingsworth says it’s not fair to “do for one what we aren’t prepared to do for all.”
“We represent 380 businesses, and we need to be fair to all of them… we can’t just treat these businesses that are going to be next door to us now any differently,” he said.
He reiterated that the board actually believes having the centre next door will benefit the businesses in the kiosk, becuase staff will be pointing visitors in their direction.
“We’re all concerned every time a stakeholder is concerned… but when we reviewed this we don’t see that we’re going to have a negative impact on his business,” he said.
Tourism Kelowna has also offered the next-door businesses a marketing package for the first year, to try and show it’s being a “good neighbour.”
Weller called the package “insulting.”
“That package is worth about $400 to other members. I stand to lose $400 a day easily,” he said.
Commission, or cost recovery?
Weller and Ayn both claim the organization plans to use the money it collects through the commissions to help fund the new information centre.
The organization is putting up the $2.8 million building without financial help from the City of Kelowna, but did receive a $500,000 grant for construction costs from the provincial government.
Killingsworth says tickets sold at the new centre are more “cost recovery” than “commissions.”
“It’s not really a business, we’re just going to cover the cost of having people stand there and talk about a business on behalf of our stakeholders,” he says. “We’re not making money off this thing.”
Staff at the new centre have always booked guests for their clients, and at the new centre will expand that service to start booking for them directly over the internet.
Killingsworth said the centre will charge a fee for the service, but that it will just be to cover the cost of credit card transactions and the booking software.
The matter of the NDA
Weller questions this, and has asked Tourism Kelowna for the minutes from its last meeting so he can both review the numbers and more broadly see how his and others’ concerns were represented to the board.
Tourism Kelowna has been cagey about the request.
In an email, Killingsworth told Weller he would have to get the minutes approved by the board before he can release them. He also said Weller would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement if he wants to see them.
Lexi called the email, which also tells Weller Tourism Kelowna staff will no longer respond to Weller’s emails, calls, or in-person visits “horrible” and “bullying,” and says she was shocked when Weller shared it with her.
Killingsworth says Weller has been very vocal and very persistent in his interactions with Tourism Kelowna staff, and the NDA is a kind of precautionary measure.
“When someone starts to elevate their level of anxiety and I end up having to talk to people in the news about it, instead of having a conversation, I need to understand what their intent is,” Killingsworth says. “It’s becoming so intense that now I have to watch everything I say.”
He adds that the NDA will explain what the purpose of the meeting minutes is.
“It’s a matter of we’ve got work to do… and so I guess it (the NDA) is to try and keep moving things forward in a way that’s comfortable,” he says.
At Tourism Kelowna’s next board meeting is later this month the board will vote to approve the minutes. Weller says he’s waiting to see what will happen next.