The latest review of the region’s economy shows upward trends across the board–from the jump in new job postings, housings starts, and airport passengers to rising rent and home prices.
The Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission released its quarterly economic indicators report today, providing a snapshot of 10 of the region’s most important economic benchmarks.
Some of the most notable changes measured by the report were the value of residential building permits, the number of new jobs posted, and the number of new homes built.
In the case of residential building permits, the report indicates their value in the Central Okanagan rocketed up 40 per cent compared to last year, reaching an all-time high of $528 million from January to June.
Housing starts in the region also continue to trend upward, showing a 90 per cent increase from 2016. The number of new apartments being built showed particularly strong growth, with construction beginning on 1,945 new units over the first three quarters of 2017.
That represents a 180 per cent increase from the 695 that were started over the same time period last year.
Most of those new units are going up in Kelowna, and the report anticipates the flood of new apartments will buoy the vacancy rate in the city to 2.1 per cent in 2018, up from the paltry 0.6 per cent it sits at today.
Meanwhile, however, rent in the city continues to go up, with the average one-bedroom apartment costing renters well over $1,000. That, the report says, is a jump of 6 per cent.
Following that trend, the median home price in Kelowna sits at approximately $700,000, which is 19 per cent higher than in 2016.
However, those swelling prices are mirrored somewhat by rising household incomes in the region. The report points out the average household income in Kelowna is $71,127. That represents a 41 per cent increase between 2005 and 2015, above the provincial increase of 33 per cent and the national increase of 11 per cent.
More information from the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission’s Economic Indicators report is available online.
An infamous building on the side of Highway 97 in Peachland has finally reopened to the public.
Prior to its new life as the home of Peachland’s Dragon Lotus Restaurant, the building, officially located at 6575 Highway 97, had been empty long enough that Peachland city staff couldn’t immediately tell Okanagan Edge for exactly how long.
The Dragon Lotus announced its move into the building in April, and its owners have spent the past six months undertaking some serious renovations at the site, including adding a 55-square-metre preparation area and 20 square metres of extra seating.
Owner Sam Vong had previously said the new Dragon Lotus would open its doors in early October, but construction delays and some equipment breakdowns pushed back the date.
Last Saturday, however, Vong threw open the doors, giving the public its first taste of Dragon Lotus in months.
On the restaurant’s Facebook page, Vong said the soft opening was his chance to “work out kinks and play with new toys, and to wait for few of our new tables and new chairs to arrive on Oct. 24 or 25.”
Prior to its move, the Dragon Lotus sat on Beach Avenue in downtown Peachland.
Along with winning the Peachland Chamber of Commerce business of the year award in 2015, the restaurant has been named the best Chinese restaurant in B.C. for three years in a row by popular travel website TripAdvisor.
When he first announced his move to the Highway 97 building, Vong told Okanagan Edge his old location was just too small, and his need for a bigger kitchen was pressing.
He said the new location will allow him to seat significantly more people, and the bigger kitchen will help him cut down on wait times for food.
Key players from the international wine and food industries converged in Kelowna late last week to weigh in on the industry’s future.
The first annual Wine and Culinary Tourism Futures conference brought together a range of specialists–from Canada, Italy, New Zealand and beyond–for four days of panels, lectures and visits to local wine and food producers.
Dr. John Hull, an associate professor at Thompson Rivers University’s Tourism Management program, was one of the conference’s organizers.
He says one theme in particular was omnipresent at the event, with many of the experts returning to it continuously: the ability to adapt will likely dictate the success of wine regions like the Okanagan in the future.
“The one thing that everyone’s been saying is we have to think of multiple futures,” Hull explained.
With this year in the Okanagan marked by swelling lakes and an ash-filled sky, Hull said many of the visiting experts stressed the importance of being able to adapt to the ever-increasing threat of climate change and major natural disasters.
Beyond merely adapting, however, Hull said many talked about how places like the Okanagan need to start planning today for a different kind of future, one where major weather events could dramatically alter the landscape itself.
What if a giant wildfire won’t swept through and dramatically change the landscape of the Okanagan forever? If that does happen, does the region have a plan to refocus its economy?
Hull said some touched on the fact that an increase in average temperature of just one degree can change the viability of some grape varieties.
As climate change continues, will the Okanagan have to rip up vines that have thrived for decades and replace them with others more suitable to the new climate?
Hull said this kind of change is already evident in Kamloops, where the wine industry has grown as temperatures have warmed.
“We may find we have to be in a situation where we’ve never really been there before, as a region,” Hull said. “How do we have resilience for places like the Okanagan with situations we’ve never had before?”
The key, he said, will be to foster not only a diverse economy, but a diverse ecology that will “allow us to adapt to things like climate change over time.”
To do that, he said the wine and food producers in the Okanagan will need to make sure they have innovative people around them who can find solutions to these problems as, and even before, they arise.
With the conference now over for this year, Hull said organizers are looking at what format it might take in the future.
About 75 people attended in its inaugural year, and Hull said there is talk of moving to a bi-yearly format, and possibly cooperating with an Austrian conference that touches on many of the same themes.
Six finalists have been announced for this year’s ChangeUp competition in Kelowna.
Presented by Okanagan Changemakers and Valley First Credit Union, ChangeUP is a pitch competition giving local social entrepreneurs a chance to show how they’re making a difference in the community.
At the Nov. 2 event, the six organizations will pitch their innovative solutions to social and environmental challenges. Through live voting, the audience will select its favourite initiative, which will win cash and in-kind services
The evening aims to recognize “the best social impact initiatives in the Okanagan Valley,” and give participants the chance to get their idea in front of a “diverse and engaged audience.”
The full slate of finalists include:
-Volinspire, a community engagement software and mobile app;
-Start Fresh, a catering business providing educational opportunities to vulnerable community members;
-Hope for the Nations, an organization providing free breakfast in 30 schools across Central Okanagan;
-Junior Achievement, a not-for profit that teaches young people financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and work skills;
-Change Gamers, the company whose I CAN App provides a safe, fun and engaging way for youth to get involved in creating a positive impact;
-Silver Surfers, an initiative dedicated to reducing isolation in seniors by teaching them how to use technology.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Okanagan Changemakers for this event, and supporting these entrepreneurs. Events like ChangeUP are so inspiring for aspiring and serial entrepreneurs alike, and we couldn’t be more excited about the finalists presenting on Nov. 2,” says Valley First’s president, Susan Ewanick.
Along with the pitch competition, Murad Al-Katib has been tapped to act as keynote speaker at the event. The Ernst and Young World Entrepreneur of the Year and Oslo Business for Peace recipient has made a significant impact on the world’s food security.
Al-Katib will be sharing with the audience his experiences building AGT Foods and Ingredients, a values-based business.
More information on this year’s ChangeUP competition, which will take place Nov. 2 at the Kelowna Community Theatre, is available online.
The developer behind the recently axed Green Square development at Mission Springs has resubmitted the project to the City of Kelowna.
Kelowna City Council voted down a previous version of the development, after a public hearing into it dragged on to almost 3:30 a.m.
Council’s Sept. 19 decision saw it vote 5-4 against the development, with Couns. Hodge, DeHart, Gray, Sieben and Stack opposed.
At the time, the developer was asking for four buildings, three of six storeys and one of five storey, housing 141 one, two and three-bedroom units.
Green Square Development Ltd.’s new plans are similar, but call for a 134-unit, multi-family housing development on a vacant lot at 3626 Mission Springs Dr.
According to plans for the new development, the Green Square housing complex will feature three six-storey and one five-story building, situated around a central square.
Plans for the four-building complex show the developer asking for permission to build higher than is currently allowed on the site.
“The fundamental approach … has been to maximize the open space, increase the amount of green space, open up view corridors between built forms through the site, and provide an overall increase in daylight to the interior and exterior spaces,” a letter accompanying the development documents reads.
Green Square Development says the open space at the centre of its design will act as both an informal community space and a hub for pedestrian connections.
It explains those features were achieved by designing four taller buildings, instead of the “more typical” single, large building.
Those four buildings will also feature bottom-floor parkade structures, which will be flanked on the outside by three-bedroom town homes. The town homes, the developer says, will “encourage a mixed demographic” in the development.
They will also provide “a vibrant connectivity between the project and Mission Springs Drive and adjacent public spaces.”
The new application is only in its early stages, and will need City of Kelowna Council approval before it can move forward. The developer’s complete plans are available here.
City council is being asked to say no to a proposal by local farmer to include year round rentals of recreational vehicles on the property.
The application has been panned by staff and the city’s Agricultural Advisory Committee.
The application, for the property at 3317 McCulloch Road would, according to the applicant, provide year round rentals specifically for low income individuals.
In its recommendation against the application, the AAC expressed concern over setting a precedence that ALR land be used as a solution to low-cost housing.
There were also concerns other RV site applications could come forward suggesting that sections of their farm land was not suitable for farming and suggested this land could be used for other agricultural activities.
In its decision not to support the application, staff indicated the city’s Official Community Plan generally does not support non-farm uses in the ALR, unless there is a direct and significant benefit to agriculture.
The property does have space for eight recreational vehicles with water, septic and electrical hookups.
Permission was granted for the space in 2009, specifying it could only operate from Apr. 1 to Oct. 31, and stays could be no longer than 30 days.
“The facility has been illegally rented year round to residents who live on the property, and bylaw enforcement has incurred to address this,” staff said in its report.
“Through this application, the applicant is seeking to legalize the illegal use.”
Summerland council will debate Monday allowing the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen onto its landfill to carry out testing for a controversial proposed regional compost facility.
With Coun. Erin Carlson on maternity leave and Coun. Richard Barkwill on vacation, council punted the decision in August to ensure everyone could weigh in.
Now fully staffed, council will decide if it should allow technical studies to take place on the landfill to determine the feasibility of the compost plant.
Council will hear from a vocal contingent of residents who are calling for the district to slam the door in the face of the RDOS. In addition to a bevy of letters, a petition of 240 signatures opposed to the compost plant will be presented to council.
Opponents have been organizing, with lawn signs popping up in front of homes in recent weeks. Concerns revolves around additional truck traffic, smell and leachate.
The RDOS selected Summerland as the prefered site for a needed compost facility following an extensive period of public consultation and debate. The board also voted to take the second choice of RDOS staff — an entirely new facility in Marron Valley — off the table when they selected Summerland.
The proposed expansion of Penticton’s city limits near Skaha Lake is something the Wild Sheep Society of B.C. would like to see happen.
The boundary extension near the Wiltse area would add a 300-acre parcel of land that is currently privately owned and uninhabited.
About 180 mixed-use residences would be built on part of that land, and the developer plans to formally gift 150 acres to B.C. Parks and expand Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park.
The Skaha Bluffs park, currently about 1,200 acres in size, is a critical habitat for bighorn sheep.
The Wild Sheep Society of B.C. has voiced their support for the proposed development and provincial park expansion.
“It’s a great opportunity for the community… This will ensure that sheep have access to this ecologically-sensitive habitat,” Lisa Hettrich said, the society’s executive director.
“The mission of the Wild Sheep Society is to promote and enhance wild sheep habitat throughout B.C. We believe in working together with all stakeholders on these issues.”
The proposed expansion would be another victory for the bighorn sheep habitat near Skaha Lake.
In August, the Nature Trust of B.C. purchased a parcel of land more than 200 acres in size to conserve for that species and several others.
The expansion and development project that is proposed requires an alternate approval process to determine if residents support it, since it involves extending municipal boundaries.
City staff has hosted four open houses to inform the public on the plans, the last of which was hosted on Oct. 15th.
At least 10 per cent of Penticton’s population would formally need to oppose the project to kill it, and residents have until Nov. 15th to fill out the paperwork if they wish to do so.
Ben Johnson, the city’s special project manager, said that most concerns heard have been to do with increased traffic in that area if the development goes through, when speaking at an open house on Oct. 6th at Wiltse Elementary.
“We’ll look at mitigating those as best as possible,” Johnson said.
More information can be found here.
The downtown visual enhancement project in Keremeos is important for the community.
After recent news the town’s only bank will be closing, and that Greyhound may cut its bus routes through Keremeos, the project is particularly crucial to attract people and business.
“For every community, it is important to stay attractive,” Mayor Manfred Bauer said.
“A downtown core has a traditional value… but it also has an attraction component, where visitors will stop and are more likely to do business, have business and and bring business into the community.
“Those are the main components, apart from the actual visual enhancement that every resident can enjoy.”
One major visual enhancement expected with the planned project is the creation of a pocket park on 7th Avenue, the town’s main street which is also a section of Highway 3.
Bauer said a visual entrance to the downtown centre and other signage improvements are expected additions that would be noticeable for those driving through town.
“You’ll actually have a feeling, despite the highway, that this is a downtown core.”
He added that traffic-calming measures will also be put in place. A speed-reader has already been installed, and curb flares and extra crosswalks will be added.
Plans have been in the works to enhance the downtown strip in the town since last year.
Last week, the town hosted a second open house to show citizens how the plans look so far.
“We had over 50 people attending, which is a lot for a small town,” Bauer said.
He noted residents filled out feedback forms, and the findings from those will be brought to council soon to determine what the next step is for the project.
Council is hopeful work on the project can break ground in the early spring, beginning with putting in water main lines and basic infrastructure.
Bauer noted as well that some funding grants for work have been extended because the town hasn’t yet used them, citing a labor shortage from the spring and summer’s extreme weather.
“There’s a large variety of opportunities … The details will have to be flushed out by the community,” Bauer said.
“We don’t want this to be a council project, this is a community project.”
Okanagan Edge This Week is our look back at everything that happened in business in the region over the last seven days.
Local business news
A new McDonald’s may soon be coming to Rutland. If the city green-lights the project, the new McDonald’s will sit just off Highway 97, at the corner of Old Vernon Road and Rutland Road, next to Kelowna Auction World.
Brinks employees in Kelowna who say they feel unsafe on the job were kept off the picket lines, after the company and Unifor reached a tentative agreement.
Startup Kamloops, an organization dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship in the city, was awarded the Startup Community of the Year award at last night’s Startup Canada Awards.
Don Robertson will be remembered as an avid community member, amazing father and loving husband, after losing his 18-year battle to cancer last weekend.
Robertson, who ran Elliott Row Men’s Wear, was diagnosed with GIST (gastrointestinal stromal tumours) in 1999. In 2014, doctors told him his medication was no longer working, but he continued to “enjoy life with his family” until his death this month.
“He is just a really positive guy even through his ordeal with cancer, he is just an amazing guy,” a friend reflected after Robertson’s death. “It didn’t seem to phase him, he lived with it but he never complained, he just forged on and kept a positive attitude at all times.”
Fine dining is returning to a storied Kelowna building, as new ownership takes the reigns at the recently closed Yellow House Restaurant.
A record-breaking feat of engineering has just been completed in British Columbia’s Yoho National Park, and the Kelowna company that built it says the project went up “without a hitch.”
BC business news
A combination of the high cost of living, tight profit margins and a shrinking workforce has made it difficult for kitchens in B.C. to find enough staff.
Legislation allowing ride-sharing in British Columbia is a year away after the province hired an expert today to consult on the best way forward.
Federal health officials say some farm-raised Pacific oysters are being recalled due to a marine biotoxin which causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.
Accelerate Okanagan lays out the steps to landing the tech job of your dreams after graduating.
A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says Kelowna is the 13th best place to be a women in Canada.
Business person of the week
The Sotheby’s realtor is this week’s Top 40 honouree